In Rubavu district, a region on the frontline of Rwanda’s battle to keep the ebola virus out, 6,000 people have so far received jabs of the vaccine. Across the country, less than 8,000 have showed up.
The district has 149,000 residents. Among them, we met Umuhoza Judithe and Kalisa Mutangana, not immunised yet.
A few kilometers, is DR Congo. There, where the virus nearly reached epidemic level, the death toll has reached 2,236.
“We still want to have more children, that injection (icyo gishinge) will make us infertile,” says Umuhoza, a sentiment also shared by Mutangana and several woman we interviewed. Mutangana for his part added he had heard it makes people lose urge for sex.
Uwamahoro Jalia says she escorted her sister for the vaccine. There, the nurse admitted to them that the vaccine was safe but a person who gets it experiences some body changes.
“My sister got sick for over a week. If it had been me, I would be dead by now. Am not sure if the nurses are telling us the truth,” says Uwamahoro.
The vaccine campaign was launched in early December last year. In addition, there is a state-of-the-art treatment center situated some 5km from the border, which remains empty as there has been no single ebola case in Rwanda. At the frontier, the washing stations are still in place.
Over 20,000 Rwandans cross to DRC daily for trade via the Rubavu border and Rusizi, far to the south which links with Congo’s Bukavu.
Government targets to have 200,000 people vaccinated in Rwanda. More than Rwf 18billion has been put into the ebola counter programs.
Those vaccinated get two injections. Beneficiaries are to be reminded through text messages to get the second injection after 56 days after the first one.
But the rumours and myths circulating are proving a challenge to the vaccination, though not recognized by officials. However, some of those who have received the injection say it has no problem.
Maragahinda Jean Pierre, 66, from Nyamyumba Sector in Rubavu told us he was vaccinated on January 9. “I did not feel any unusual change to my body and my libido remains unaffected,” he reports.
Iranzi Aime Jackson, was injected one months ago. He narrated; “Before I went there, I got so many stories including that I would spend a long time without having sex. The next day after the injection, I went about my usual business normally.”
He admitted that had it not been for the fact that he goes to Goma nearly everyday, the rumours would have made him not take the vaccine.
Ikirezi Immaculee, the in-charge at the vaccination site pointed out drug has temporary side effects like all drugs. They have intensified the sensitisation and number of those coming for the vaccine has increased significantly.
She added, “Some people may experience slight headache. A person given the vaccine is required to wait around for 15mins as we monitor for any unusual changes. People who have problems are taken to health center for further checks.”
Lt. Col Dr. Kanyankole William, the Director General of Gisenyi Hospital is at the frontline of the ebola fight.
“We have been ensuring people have all the information necessary about the dangers of ebola and the good in the vaccines. It is ultimately the person’s right to agree to be vaccinated,” he said.
Pregnant women and children under 2 years old do not qualify for the vaccines as their bodies are considered very weak.