By Johannnes Marisa
Many lives have been lost, many budding professionals have been taken off this land because of Covid-19. Our country has been robbed of great minds who include ministers, parliamentarians, doctors, professors, nurses, engineers and many more. What is painful is that those who die in combat will be hoping to save the masses from the scourge, but that fate is not on their side. Rest in peace all our colleagues who have been taken to be with the Lord. You fought your wars as front-liners, you helped many in your gowns and masks but God has his plans. The remaining families should remain strong and astute as life needs to move ahead. The likes of Professor James Gita Hakim, Dr Patrick Dhliwayo, Dr Surprise Matereke, Dr Tendai Mutwira, Dr Chris Zishiri, Dr Ahmed Bilal Shah are all too ghastly to contemplate as tears will not dry easily.
There are many heroes in medicine who changed the world in numerous ways and one such example is the late American microbiologist, Mauricce Hilleman, a great man who single-handedly made a Flu vaccine in 1957 in just four months, thus bringing the Asian flu of 1957/1958 to an abrupt end. The entire world was brought into great jubilation as the the avain flu, H2N2 was halted. Today, the world is in tears again with a stubborn virus, Covid-19, which has continued to ravage the entire world with at least 4,34 million people having succumbed to it since its outbreak in Wuhan province, China in 2019. Africa has lost at least 185 000 people, but that number is far from the truth as many countries do not report their statistics to the World Health Organisation. It is absurd to find out that there are countries that claim to record zero cases and zero deaths from Covid-19 yet their respective neighbours are bombarded and depredated to the bone. Nations should learn to report their cases for strategic planning purposes.
Zimbabwe has done well in terms of Covid-19 management and control with public health measures and restrictions working to mitigate against the heinous virus. So far at least 8.3% of the eligible vaccine population has been vaccinated in our country, a figure that is promising and with the realization that we are sitting on the 8th position in Africa in terms of vaccination status. Seychelles, Comoros, Tunisia, Carpe Verde have all done better than us in terms of vaccination. Private Practitioners have been roped into the vaccination programmes and many centres are now vaccinating. Challenges seem to be in some districts where district heads are moving slowly to implement government directives to supply the vaccines to private practitioners. While we appreciate all the previously-introduced public health measures, I think it is now wiser to give serious relevance to what I think is the new norm, vaccination. There is wasted energy and unnecessary debate about vaccines and the misinformation and disinformation surrounding the vaccines are detrimental to humanity. Everyone has now become a specialist in medicine but the superficial thinking exhibited by some of the conspiracy theorists is nauseating.. Everyone knows that Africa is a poor continent with poor health infrastructure, demotivated health workforce who endure in poor working environment. However, mortality and morbidity have not been as high as in the developed world that boasts of advanced clinical technology, state-of-the-art equipment including sophisticated ventilation, drugs and renowned doctors and other researchers. We need vaccines in our country and we applaud our government for involving the private practitioners in the administration of Covid-19 vaccines.
Covid-19 seems to be a virus that will stay with us for some time. We are already at the end of the third wave today but we are facing a fourth wave before the end of the year with threats of more serious attacks ahead. The reality is that the rate of mutation is too much with the Covid-19 as United Kingdom has witnessed alpha variant, South Africa beta variant, gamma in Brazil, lambda in Peru and Delta in India. These mutant threats are a threat to humanity and for sure will cause a lot of affliction as they have a great potential to evade the immune system or even the available vaccines. It is sad that Covid-19 is attacking some patients for the second time or even the third time, making it a very obnoxious pathogen that evades the immune system in no time. The behavior of the virus therefore calls for all of us to realise the following:
- People should not confuse issues of public policy and individual rights in international emergencies like Covid-19 pandemics. A policy is a public declaration for the benefit of the masses and it not put to suit one person. When government promulgated S1 77, 83, 90 of 2020, it wanted to protect people from the ravaging effects of the virus which was very necessary. That there is no heroism in denying vaccination when faced with such a scenario. You hear even everyone claims that he needs to be consulted about the vaccines. Can government reach consensus at individual level with all the 14 million citizens when people are busy dying in homes? Many deaths occurring in hospitals are for the unvaccinated and yet you find conspiracy theorists denigrating immunisation. In 1957, a vaccine was found within four months but managed to stop the H2N2.
- Resistance will not yield anything if we are to archieve health that we desire as a nation. Medical advice is necessary for all the steps that are of public health concern. It is my prayer that church organisations spread the word of public health and not to work antagonistically to national health interests. Yes rights are there, but policies aim to protect the general populace.This is the time for upscaling of vaccinations everywhere in our country and it is imperative to expedite the processes in order to cover as many people as possible. It should be remembered that vaccination which is haphazard and sporadic can result in flare ups with possibilities of creation of variants. In as much as people will get vaccinated, the fact that there are vaccination gaps in terms of the time of inoculation may allow for mutations to take place in between with resultant further complicated scenarios. All this will surely keep Covid-19 in circulation for a long time and I do not see the virus disappearing in a short time to come. Africa is well behind in terms of vaccination with only about 24 million people having been fully vaccinated or just 1,8% of the entire population. This is an insignificant fraction if we are dreaming of achieving herd immunity amongst our populace. This means there is going to be misery amongst many of us in poor countries as the virus will continue to attack unabated. More sickness, usage of resources and deaths still lie ahead of us. Covid-19 is real.
- Provincial and district health coordinators or heads should expedite the vaccination processes in collaboration with other key participants like private medical practitioners. Why honestly should someone sit on vaccines that should benefit the entire nation yet we are facing a more serious fourth wave that has a cocktail of numerous strains in the basket? Please let us organise vaccines as fast as possible.
Spread the word of vaccination wherever you are. The vaccination center is next to you!
- Dr Johannes Marisa is a medical practitioner and public health practitioner who can be accessed on email@example.com