Prisoners and prisons staff are now being vaccinated in a programme launched by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS), with the service urging all to get the jabs.
Zimbabwe’s prison population has risen up to over 19 000 in the country’s 46 prisons, 12 percent above the designed holding capacity of 17 000, and that makes infection more likely.
So far, 17 people, including staff members and prisoners, have died of Covid-19 since the outbreak of the disease.
Speaking during the launch of the inmates vaccination programme on Thursday last week, ZPCS Commissioner General Moses Chihobvu said he was worried about the inmates who were not vaccinated, saying vaccination was the only way to save people’s lives.
“I was the first person in the service to be vaccinated, so l led by example, I urge everyone to be vaccinated,” he said. “We are not discriminatory. Everyone should get a chance to get the vaccine. There is nothing to fear about this jab. The President was vaccinated so it shows the vaccine is safe.
“We are urging everyone to take a caution and follow the prescribed WHO guidelines. We in the same vein encourage everyone to be vaccinated. Nobody is being spared by this pandemic, so no one is safe. Vaccination is the way to go.”
Comm-Gen Chihobvu said the number of infected prisoners was going up, but at present none were in a critical situation.
The pandemic is affecting more officers than inmates, perhaps because of funerals and gatherings they attend.
Mr Tapiwa Godzi, who represented Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mrs Virginia Mabhiza at function, said there was need to consider another amnesty because prison population was now over 19 000, exceeding the capacity of the recommended 17 000.
An amnesty will help to ease malnutrition problems and reduce the prison population and to contain the effects of Covid-19.
The courts should consider non-custodial form of sentences like community services and fines.
“We are here to witness vaccination of our inmates,” said Mr Godzi. “They are actually happy. We are doing this to keep our prisoners healthy and free from the deadly pandemic. We are getting support and we are grateful for our Government and the corporate world to secure vaccines which are very useful in preventing the spread of this deadly pandemic.”
Several inmates received their first jabs at Harare Central Prison.
Speaking after receiving their doses, some inmates said they were happy they had taken the first step to fight the spread of the pandemic and urged others to get their jabs as well.
Aleck Mushowani (42) of Mt Darwin, who was convicted of rape, said prevention was better than cure, adding that there was no need to hesitate or doubt the vaccine.
“We stay in large numbers here, so why can’t we get vaccinated considering we are the most vulnerable to this disease because we live in overcrowded places,” he said. “Let’s get vaccinated and protected to save our lives.
Mushowani is serving a 12-year sentence.
Another inmate, Tinashe Madzivanyika (30) of Kambuzuma, who was sentenced to 12 years for rape said there was nothing to worry about the vaccine because it helps to fight the disease just like other vaccines.
“I would like to thank the Government for providing us with vaccines for this deadly disease,” he said. “l hope everyone will take this jab seriously so as to save our lives. People are dying, no one is spared until we all get vaccinated.”
ZPCS has recorded 2 754 cases of Covid-19 since last year, 1 846 have recovered and there are 891 active cases.