Soldiers hold guns to guard the health center in the traditional Tunisian village of Kesra, while inside, military medics use other weapons to fight COVID-19: vaccines.
Tunisia is facing its worst wave of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, placing more emphasis on the North African country’s already overcrowded hospitals and health system. This has forced some regions to lock down and sparked waves of donations of vaccines or medical aid from China, France, Turkey, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria.
The Tunisian government has decided to deploy armed forces to immunize people in areas with the highest infection rates and in areas with particularly low vaccination rates.
At Kesra Medical Center this week, military medic Riadh Allani said the shooting participation rate “is satisfactory, but low compared to the big cities where news spreads quickly and people come.”
“Many citizens here have difficulty getting to the vaccination center, so we are ready to extend our stay to give everyone the opportunity to come,” Allani told The Associated Press. He said doctors would work with local authorities to vaccinate people at home, if needed.
In the past month, confirmed cases in Tunisia reached their highest daily pandemic count, but the nationwide vaccination rate remains low, according to data from John’s Hopkins University.
Tunisia has reported the highest number of pandemic deaths per capita in Africa and currently has one of the highest daily per capita infection rates in the world, the data show.
Military health workers vaccinated thousands of people in Kesra and other sites in the Siliana region of central interior Tunisia, mostly people over the age of 60 with underlying health conditions. The campaign in Kesra used Sinovac vaccines from China.
The military said the medical deployment could be extended to other regions in the coming days. The Tunisian president said the army would send helicopters to mountainous areas to bring vaccines to remote villages.
Rafika Achour, a resident of Kesra, said she had been summoned twice for the shot, but was skeptical about the idea of having an injection.
“When I heard about the arrival of the army, I decided to come and be vaccinated because (…) for me, (the army) is more honest than the others,” said Achour at the vaccination site.
To encourage vaccination and raise awareness, Tunisian President Kaies Saied received his first dose of vaccine on Monday.
Meanwhile, help is coming from near and far.
The United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Algeria have sent hundreds of thousands of doses of vaccines and medical supplies to Tunisia. A shipment of medical aid arrived by sea from Italy on Friday. France has pledged another 800,000 COVID-19 vaccines this week, and China has pledged 400,000, according to the Tunisian news agency TAP.
As of Saturday, Tunisia had reported more than 17,000 deaths and more than 533,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins.