Sunday 13 February 2022


THELMA Muchemwa from Tafara is a troubled mother.

Her son is now a month-old and is yet to get his Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine dose.

A single dose of the vaccine is given as part of the national childhood immunisation programme administered to babies within hours of birth or later on.

However, it is not recommended after 28 weeks. The vaccine is meant to protect children under the age of five against tuberculosis (TB), meningitis and other severe forms of TB.

Muchemwa is aware that her son’s health is at risk the more he delays getting the jab.

She has tried visiting local clinics, but all in vain.

Harare City Council-owned primary healthcare facilities across the capital are either operating at subdued capacity or have shut operations.

This is as a result of myriad challenges, chief among them massive human capital flight that has led to acute staff shortages.

“I am worried about my son. I have visited our clinics countless times to get him vaccinated with no luck.

“At times they are closed or when they open they claim to be short-staffed,” bemoaned Muchemwa.

Central hospitals require referral letters, while private healthcare institutions charges are beyond the reach of many.

Most private healthcare providers are demanding anything between US$30 and US$50 to cover consultation and the BCG jab.

Ordinarily, the vaccine is supposed to be administered free of charge in public health institutions.

“My colleagues have been referred back to their local clinic(s), thus I have not bothered trying my luck at big hospitals,” she added.

“I am a struggling single mother and cannot afford a private healthcare facility. I have no choice, but to wait until operations normalise at local clinics.”

In Glen Norah, Sarah Mhute’s husband was eventually forced to borrow money from colleagues.

“I visited our local clinic twice, but in vain. The two nurses on duty were not attending to patients. Noticing that I was running out of time, my husband, Simon, was forced to borrow some money for our baby to be vaccinated at a private clinic,” said Mhute.

Worryingly, there are parents who have decided to forgo the process.

“It was not my intention. My child skipped the BCG jab since I could not access it.

“But, she is in good health. I pray that God keeps protecting her,” said one of the parents.

Some nurses who spoke to The Sunday Mail Society said there were likely to be many people seeking vaccinations since clinics were usually taking limited numbers on days specially designated for vaccination.

“We only vaccinate on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and one needs to come in early because we only take a limited number. We are short-staffed, thus we can only attend to a few patients,” said one of the nurses at a council clinic in Chitungwiza.

“Demand for the vaccine and other services is high . . . I have resorted to offering private services for a fee to those that fail to make it during scheduled operating times.”

A staffer at a private clinic situated at High Glen shopping complex said they only vaccinated 10 children on Tuesdays for US$3 per child.

Experts believe there is urgent need to deal with a potential crisis.

The vaccination procedure has been declared mandatory by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recommends that BCG be administered to all children living in highly endemic countries, as well as infants and children at particular risk of TB exposure in otherwise low-endemic areas.

Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Health and Child Care were futile.

Health expert Dr Ebison Chinherende said BCG should be administered timely to eliminate the risk of early exposure.

“The vaccine helps an infant’s immune system to fight germs that cause TB.

“Parents and authorities should understand that failure for infants to get BCG places the minors at high risk of getting these dangerous diseases and may also lead to future health complications,” he said.

“Authorities need to ensure that such services are available in adequate supply at the running clinics.

“We risk creating a generation prone to diseases if this worrying trend is not nipped in the bud,” added another doctor.

Harare City Council currently has 43 health facilities, with 15 being operational.

Overall, of the 43 facilities, 12 are polyclinics, two are hospitals — Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital and Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospitals — while the rest are satellite and family health clinics.

Satellite clinics in Glen Norah, Kuwadzana, Western Triangle, Tafara, Belvedere, Avondale and Braeside and Highlands have been closed for some time. Southerton and Matapi polyclinics are also no longer functional due to staff shortages.

For the few who are still operating, the staff is accused of demanding bribes from desperate patients.

A single polyclinic is designed to service a community of about 50 000 people.

Harare City Council’s principal communications officer Innocent Ruwende said the municipality is working around the clock to ensure operations resume at all its facilities.

He said council has made sure that there is at least a facility to service two or three locations in the capital.

The local authority is also making effort to avail BCG vaccines and other crucial neonatal services at the clinics.

“Those whose local clinics are closed should alternatively visit the nearest functioning health facilities in neighbouring suburbs. We have strategically collapsed some centres so that we boost operations in selected areas,” said Ruwende.

Council is also reportedly hiring nurses on a locum basis to boost its workforce. Sunday Mail


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