EDITORIAL COMMENT: New Covid taskforce has its work cut out

22 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views
EDITORIAL COMMENT: New Covid taskforce has its work cut out Vice President Constantino Chiwenga

The Herald

The expanded and upgraded national taskforce tackling Covid-19 in Zimbabwe is moving swiftly, holding its first meeting in its new guise the day after Cabinet approved the new set-up, and getting down to work to fight complacency and bottlenecks.

The expanded team of officials meets on Friday, bringing in all the statistics and recommending measures based on that data for the ministerial team to consider on Monday before the taskforce submits its recommendations to Cabinet on Tuesday.

Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care Constantino Chiwenga, chairing the taskforce, outlined what had to be done.

Zimbabwe has done fairly well in the battle against Covid-19, beating back the first three waves with just 4 659 deaths since March last year by taking effective action in time, and so we know what to do and how to build on that.

Its vaccination programme, with 38,5 doses per 100 people delivered by Wednesday, is considered excellent by African standards. This has resulted in 3 244 397 Zimbabweans already in the vaccination programme with at least one dose, about 21,63 percent of the entire population estimated at 15 million and more than 32 percent of the 10 million target.

Wednesday saw another milestone passed with the number of fully vaccinated passing 2,5 million to reach 2 508 206, that is 16,72 percent of the entire population and more than a quarter of that initial 10 million target.

Again, in Africa, these sort of figures put Zimbabwe among the leaders.

The Finance and Economic Development Ministry is ensuring the Health Ministry gets the vaccine supplies along with the syringes and other paraphernalia needed to administer the doses.

The Government allowed the Health Ministry to hire more staff, basically every available nurse in Zimbabwe including those who have retired, and to take over the medical staff of Chitungwiza and Harare councils so they are paid properly on time and vacancies can be filled.

And yet, as Vice-President Chiwenga noted, there are gaps and the vaccination rate in slowing significantly.

Last week a little over 115 000 jabs were given, around a quarter of what should be seen and far below the almost 518 000 seen in the best week, which was in August while the third wave was raging.

The 2,5 million now fully protected is a large block of people, but is not nearly large enough to prevent a fourth wave sweeping across the country.

There are some big pools of vaccinated, the Government itself having the largest by ordering all civil servants to get both jabs.

The deadline for that was Friday last week but the number remaining is so low, and most have a reasonable excuse, that this small minority were given a blanket extension to the end of the year, with it being stressed that they need to get the jabs if they do not want to be sent home without pay.

Many of the larger employers have similar high percentages of vaccinated staff forming more large pools of protection. And the Government has pushed hard to get people in areas like the tobacco industry and even the larger informal markets vaccinated to provide more firebreaks.

But these pools of protection mean there must be large swathes of people who have yet to line up for their free shots.

Obviously the taskforce and its officials committee will be looking at reasons.

There might well be some logistical problems in some areas. While there are Government policies that see more outreach teams, and all clinics operating as vaccination centres, we need data on just how well this working.

There are reports that some clinics will only give 50 jabs a day, and that needs to be looked into to see it this is reasonable.

If there are acceptable constraints then solutions need to be found.

Chitungwiza has a far lower vaccination rate, once we adjust for population, than the rest of Harare province.

That has been investigated and obviously someone has ideas on how to get more people into the lines. The statistics might not be fully accurate, with some Chitungwiza people being vaccinated in Harare, but there are still large pools of the unvaccinated across Harare.

We have significant successes, though, in some border towns. Victoria Falls became the first city with enough vaccinated adults to give herd immunity as a result of a major community effort to get everyone jabbed so that the city could resume its tourism and hospitality business.

Vaccination rates in other border towns are almost as good, so this sort of community campaign can work.

At present we seem to have some islands of protection but now need to figure out how to link these up into a single national fortress that can defeat Covid-19

Obviously the officials coming in for the Friday meetings, and these now include the top provincial medical officers, are going to have good ideas on how to spread vaccination in their areas, and be able to give details of where there could be pools of resistance and lists of the sort of resources they might need to accelerate vaccination among the willing.

This will be strengthened when the ministerial task force meets on Monday. This now includes besides the relevant Cabinet Ministers the 10 Ministers of State from the provinces, They should have the fingers on the pulse of their provinces and be able to offer ideas.

The Vice President in his Wednesday remarks was keen on Zimbabwe building on its successes, where it got it right, and filling the gaps. He did not think sitting on our hands or resting on our laurels was a good idea. He wanted action, backed by science, backed by our own experience, backed by best practices developed globally.

At some stage a fourth wave will arrive. This is inevitable. The strength of that wave will be largely based on how well our vaccination programme has turned out at that moment, and how well we are implementing the normal Covid-19 precautions and how swiftly we can intensify these where required.

We can beat back any future waves if we get things right, and that is something that the upgraded taskforce will be doing.

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