Teachers want mobile Covid-19 vaccination centres

By Lizwe Sebatha

AS the COVID-19 national vaccination drive nears the 1 million mark, the aged and rural teachers targeted under the second phase of the exercise ‘feel left out’ owing to a number of reasons such as lack of access to clinics.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa launched the second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination drive in March at the resort town of Victoria Falls where he also received his first jab.

The second phase targets teachers, the clergy, and members of the security sector, the elderly and people with chronic conditions, among other priority groups.

However, rural teachers lodge complaints with their unions of lack of access to the vaccination centres citing the distance they have to travel to the nearest health facilities at their own cost.

The elderly complain of the same.

“In as much as I want to, where would I get the energy to visit the clinic for a jab,” said Nkosi Ndlovu, aged 65 from Bidi village in Matobo South under Chief Bidi said.

The nearest health clinic from the Bidi area is nearly 10 kilometres away at St Joseph.

The elderly complain of the same.

Traditional leaders and teacher unions called on the Health and Child Care ministry to avail mobile vaccination teams closer to their homes and workstations to ensure easy access.

“Rural teachers have to travel very long distances to access not only the vaccination but also information about the jab itself.

“A good number of rural teachers and learners are also not aware of the centres where vaccination can be accessed,” said Munyaradzi Masiyiwa, the deputy secretary-general of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz).

Although post-independence, the Government embarked on a programme aimed at promoting equitable access to health services by focusing on improving the situation in rural areas, there is still an existing gap with most facilities poorly equipped.

Some of the rural areas remain side-lined in terms of easy access to health services because of the scarcity of health institutions and health services, and the long distances that people have to sometimes walk to reach the nearest health services centre.

“There must be a prescribed timetable for teachers and learners to be vaccinated. The government must also avail transport to learners and teachers just like what happens when Learners want to get circumcised. More information is required through school physical visitations by the ministry of Health Child Care,” Masiyiwa added.

“More vaccination centres must be available too; some schools may be used as vaccination centres. In every cluster, we may have one school as a vaccination centre.”

The first phase of the vaccine rollout programme with a Chinese donation of 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccines targeted frontline health workers, journalists, prison population as well as ports and immigration officials.

Zimbabwe’s Medicines Control Authority has approved four vaccines: the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines manufactured in China, the Sputnik-V from Russia and Covaxin produced in India.

Outspoken Chief Khulumami Mathema of Gwanda also bemoaned access to Covid-19 awareness information such as vaccination centres as he called for a different approach to cater for the aged rural populace.

“I have also not seen health experts come to the villages to explain to the people about Covid-19 vaccination. In a way I cannot even go to my subjects and tell them to go and get vaccinated because I am also in the dark,” Mathema said as he added that lack of access resulted in scepticism.

“In rural areas, a different approach is needed. We need health experts to come to the ground, engage and explain vaccination to the people, while also ensuring that the vaccination is conducted near their (people’s) homesteads.”

Chief Mabhikwa Vusumuzi Khumalo added: “The complaints we get is of access to the vaccination centres, and the distance that the aged have to travel. More so there is limited information and education concerning the vaccination program in rural areas where most of the elderly age is concentrated.”

In rural areas, the digital divide and lack of telecommunications infrastructure have often been cited as the reasons for the lack of access to Covid-19 information.

Matabeleland South Director for Epidemiology and Disease Control Andrew Philip Muza was, however, confident that the vaccination drive will meet its target of achieving herd immunity once it is decentralised to local communities for easy access.

“Those concerns (access) will be easily addressed once it is decentralised to cater for everyone,” Muza said.

Thandazani Moyo, a teacher Magedleni in Gwanda North says he has since lost hope of receiving a jab owing to lack of vaccination centres near his village.

“We are told to travel to Gwanda town which is over 10 kilometres away to be vaccinated,” says Moyo.

“That is a major hindrance. We are short-staffed at school so getting an off day during the week is a daunting task. Several villagers who were eager to get vaccinated have long given hope”.

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