Rural Folk Bemoan Poor Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

An upsurge of COVID-19 cases has increased the demand for vaccination, however, for many Matabeleland South residents, poor access is the impediment.

When Zimbabwe launched its COVID-19 vaccination program this February, it drew a mixed bag of enthusiasm and scepticism in equal measure.The government set timelines for vaccinating around 600 000 healthcare and other frontline workers under the first phase of the vaccination exercise. The elderly and those with chronic conditions were set to follow after the country took delivery of 200 000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China.

As the debate of getting a jab escalated, the virus eased as infections dropped while stringent lockdown measures were gradually lifted but reports of vaccine shortages began to surface in urban centres.

However, in the past few weeks, there has been an upsurge of infections countrywide, sparking a demand for the COVID-19 jab. As they rush to get a jab intensifies, rural communities in Matabeleland South cry foul of being neglected as they accuse the central government of concentrating in urban areas. In separate interviews with locals surrounding Plumtree, it emerged that vaccine information is still lacking further fuelling scepticism despite a rise in infections and fatalities.

“I have never seen health workers moving around in my ward disseminating information about the vaccine. I only get to hear about vaccination on foreign radio stations and it is about shortages of vaccines in urban areas.” “I feel we are neglected in rural areas. Maybe it’s because we are viewed as not contributing much to the economy of this country,” bemoaned Mellisa Kupe of Tshitshi.

Kupe tells The Citizen Bulletin that due to transport costs she cannot afford to travel to Bulawayo twice to be vaccinated. It costs almost 100 Rand one way from Plumtree to Bulawayo.

“It hurts to hear on the radio that vaccine doses are being delivered in Harare and other parts of the country, why are vaccines not available at my nearest clinic?” Kupe bemoans. “Are we not Zimbabweans enough to be vaccinated?” she asks.

Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR), views the COVID-19 pandemic as a major human rights’ risk and in its recent survey paints a gloomy picture in Matabeleland South. It said of the 20 wards sampled in four districts, “there was no COVID-19 vaccine in their local clinics and this has been going on for more than one month now”.

“In all the 20 communities of Insiza, Gwanda, Mangwe and Matobo Districts that were sampled and surveyed, key informants revealed that there was no COVID-19 vaccine in their local clinics and this has been going on for more than one month now.” “In some of the clinics, they alluded to the 2nd dose being available but not the 1st dose,” the MIRH says.

On June 26, Zimbabwe received a half-million Sinopharm shots against COVID-19 it bought from China, development officials said it would put its vaccination program back on track. A batch of Sinovac vaccines from China is also expected in the country early this month (July).

The country is aiming to inoculate 60 per cent of its 14.5 million people to archive herd immunity— the point in which enough people have immunity to a disease that it can no longer spread throughout the population— by the end of the year.

Itai Rusike, Community Working Group on Health executive director is of the view that poor distribution of vaccines poses a danger of leave people in rural areas vulnerable during the third wave. “Vaccine equity is very key in combating the virus but as long as we don’t address this, people in the rural areas will continue to be affected. They should not be left out in accessing vaccines.”

MIRH added that respondents contacted in their survey said it is difficult to travel to district hospitals to access the 1st dose of the vaccine.

“There is no publicly available information as to the availability of the 1st dose in the district hospitals and therefore, people are sceptical to travel to the districts and find the 1st dose not there having spent lots of money for transport (including the risk of using pirate transporters)”.

Former Bulilima legislator Norman Mpofu says he is worried about the carefree attitudes shown by some villagers. “At the moment in most rural areas, it is perceived as an urban disease. Those in rural areas have this false sense that they are safe.”

Mpofu also blames some business owners for not monitoring crowds at their premises. “At Macingwana village, tournaments attracting participants as far afield as Plumtree town and Bulawayo are organised. After the soccer tournaments, all-night drinking follows. This is dangerous,” he adds.

On 5 July, 4 638 people received their first dose bringing cumulative for first doses to 797 715 while 3 588 people received their second doses bringing cumulative for the second dose to 571 721.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently tightened the country’s COVID-19 control measures, moving them to a tougher level 4.

Under the new lockdown measures, businesses are now expected to operate from 8 am and close at 3.30 pm with intercity movement being prohibited, except for production and distribution of food and medicine. The curfew hours run from 6.30 pm-6 am.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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