SIPHILISIWE Ncube (40) smiles as she covers her arm after getting her first dose of COVID-19 jab at Gwanda Provincial Hospital in Matabeleland South.
Having travelled all the way from Entepe Village to the Central Healthcare Centre, she is relieved that at last she has received the lifesaving vaccine.
Ncube is part of the 77 823 people that have been vaccinated in Matabeleland South, the lowest figure to be recorded compared to all 10 provinces in Zimbabwe.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care show that the total number of people who have been vaccinated stands at 1 562 285.
Both Matabeleland North and South provinces account for 188 503 of those people which is less than what Harare (266 978), Manicaland (193 589) and Mashonaland West (190 285) have recorded as single Provinces.
Villagers like Ncube have had to wait for months before accessing the vaccine which was officially rolled out in February this year.
“We heard of vaccines from people coming from town and up until today we cannot easily access it from our local clinics although we know it’s supposed to be rolled out to every eligible citizen. Unfortunately for us we have to travel to Central Health Centers to access the vaccine as we are now in constant fear of succumbing to COVID-19,” she said.
Ncube added that many communities have not accessed health information on the vaccine which also explains the low uptake.
Ms Atalia Moyo from Brunapeg area in rural Plumtree said vaccines had not yet been available to health care centers yet despite reports that the country had received more than six million doses.
“I feel that we have been sidelined as a Province in terms of COVID-19 vaccines and information because only a few of our institutions have received the doses. No one has even bothered to come down to communities and share information, many of us rely on relatives who live in town and they are the reason we have risen to seek vaccination,” she said.
Ms Moyo added that vaccines were only accessible from Centralized Health Centers which discourages many who cannot afford bus fare.
“We still await to see our nurses and community leaders announcing that the vaccine is now available at local clinics just like in Bulawayo because we understand that residents are accessing it from the comfort of their homes,” she said.
Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) recently conducted a virtual situation analysis of the COVID-19 vaccine availability in rural Matabeleland South province.
The survey was targeting a random sample of 20 wards from Gwanda Rural District, Insiza District, Matobo District and Mangwe District.
In all the 20 communities’ key informants revealed that there was no COVID-19 vaccine in their local clinics and this has been going on for more than a month now.
In some of the clinics, they alluded to the second dose being available but while others said they understood the first dose is available in major hospitals and in Bulawayo.
Contacted for comment, Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director, Dr Rudo Chikodzore said the vaccination program was picking pace although many villagers were not keen to accept it at first.
She said communities should do their best to get vaccinated so that the country can achieve herd immunity.
“We continue rolling out the vaccine to all members of the public and our figures keep growing with each passing day although we started at a very slow pace. Yes, we did have challenges a while ago in terms of access but for now all our Health Centers have the vaccines,” she said.
“Our health promotion teams are out in full force as well raising awareness in our communities so that our villagers understand the importance of getting vaccinated. We are also doing our best to address myths because we do face some resistance from communities who still believe that COVID-19 is a disease for those who live in urban areas and that these vaccines are only meant to make them worse,” she added.
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