Aspen and Eutelsat announced a partnership with the Department of Health to roll out high-speed satellite broadband to vaccination sites in rural Mpumalanga.
The announcement comes after acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced that South Africa’s vaccine programme would be expanded to include those who are 35 to 49 years old.
Kubayi-Ngubane also announced that the Department of Health secured funding to allow vaccination sites to operate over weekends.
The Aspen-Eutelsat partnership is intended to increase access to South Africa’s electronics vaccination data system (EVDS) in rural areas.
Those eligible to receive a vaccination must register in the EVDS for an appointment to receive their vaccine.
This week, Eutelsat’s Konnect satellite broadband service was extended to thirteen vaccination centres in Mpumalanga.
The service aims to address the widespread lack of internet access in rural areas, which directly impedes the vaccination drive for rural populations.
Only 1.7% of the rural population in Mpumalanga are connected to the Internet, according to Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey of 2020.
In a drive to increase vaccinations in these areas, the Konnect service pre-registers, admits, and discharges vaccination clients at the vaccination centres.
According to Aspen senior executive for strategic trade, Stavros Nicolaou, connecting rural vaccination centres via satellite will also “reduce the burden” on the vaccination system, “freeing up much-needed public resources into other critical functions.”
Further strengthening South Africa’s vaccine drive is Kubayi-Ngubane’s announcement that 35 to 49 year-olds would be able to register for their vaccine from 15 July, with the rollout for the age group set to begin from 1 August.
In addition, the Department of Health has been granted funding from National Treasury to pay for the healthcare workers needed to administer vaccines over weekends.
The last report of weekend vaccinations from 28 June shows that under 2,000 people are vaccinated per day over weekends.
In comparison, the past 24 hours alone saw 191,833 South African being vaccinated.
Increased vaccinations will be critical if the government aims to vaccinate 40 million South Africans by the end of the year.
Since 17 February, when the rollout kicked off, 4,017,442 people have been vaccinated, according to the Media Hack vaccination calculator.
To reach the 40 million mark, 450,000 doses will have to be administered daily, assuming a two-shot vaccination such as the one produced by Pfizer-BioNTech.