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22 October 2021 | Story Dr Nitha Ramnath | Photo Rhona Klopper
Donating masks to Rekopane Primary School, were from the left: Alfi Moolman (UFS Directorate: Community Engagement), Sonja Venter-Botes (Bloemshelter), Tina Moleko (Rankwe Primary School), and Michelle Engelbrecht (UFS Centre for Health Systems Research and Development).

The Centre for Health Systems Research and Development (CHSR&D) at the University of the Free State (UFS) recently donated 500 masks to Rekopane Primary School in Botshabelo. This initiative was part of its pledge to donate 100 cloth masks to a previously disadvantaged primary school for every 1 000 of the first 5 000 completed questionnaires that formed part of a study survey examining people’s understanding of information about COVID-19 vaccines. The results of the study will be shared with stakeholders who are responsible for providing information about COVID-19 vaccinations.

It is known that a large number of people globally and in South Africa prefer not to be vaccinated. “There are many reasons for this, and we would like to find out where people are getting information about the COVID-19 vaccination, and whether they are able to understand this information, so that they can make an informed choice about getting vaccinated. We did this by asking people about their own health and COVID-19, where they have heard about the vaccine, if they understood this information, and whether they have had/would have the vaccine or not, as well as the reasons for this,” said Prof Michelle Engelbrecht, Director of CHSR&D. 

While following guidelines such as wearing masks, sanitising hands, and social distancing are important to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a large percentage of the population will need to be vaccinated if we want to control the pandemic in the long term and prevent hospitalisation and severe illness. 

All persons in South Africa aged 18 and older were invited to complete an online survey regarding their perceptions of COVID-19 vaccines. The survey, which was available in the seven most spoken languages in the country, was advertised on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and on the Moya app.  The survey was open from 1 to 31 September 2021, and the CHSR&D received 10 554 completed questionnaires.  No data was required to complete the survey.

The Department of Basic Education partners decided on the school that would benefit, and the study provided an opportunity to support Bloemshelter, a UFS flagship programme. Alfi Moolman of the Directorate: Community Engagement said that “NGOs are really struggling to make ends meet, and we are delighted that Bloemshelter could provide the masks as one of their income-generating projects.  So many lives are touched for the good. The university is indeed a caring organisation.”

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