Health & Community

Let The Medical Professionals Lead Covid-19 Public Health Management

Health Professionals
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By Dr Simbiso Ranga  Secretary for Health and Child Welfare, North American Province, MDC-Alliance.
The story of Covid-19 Vaccination in Zimbabwe is yet to be fully told. How the vaccination program is managed will determine whether Zimbabwe succeeds or fails.
The medical professionals should lead the charge for success. As much as government determines policy regarding issues like Covid-19 regulations and vaccine choices, these policies should be based on the best advice of medical professionals and institutions.
When Zimbabwean citizens decide on whether or not to get vaccinated, they rely principally on the advice of their health care providers as a critical element of their decision making process, and they also look to family,  friends, coworkers, spiritual and business leaders for validation of their decision.
However, medical professionals remain key sources of credible information to all the aforementioned groups.
It is therefore essential that these medical professionals be not placed in a difficult conflicted corner as to whether they should promote the vaccination campaign or not.
We believe that the Zimbabwean government is placing Medical professionals between a rock and a hard place because critical choices on Covid-19 vaccines are being made without transparency and accountability to both the profession and the whole population.
Most health care professionals across the world do understand that vaccination is the ultimate solution in the fight against Covid-19. Healthcare providers also understand that vaccine choice is a critical cog in this war, and should be based on sound science that emphasizes safety, efficacy and effectiveness.
Institutions like the College of Primary Care Physicians of Zimbabwe (CPCPZ), the Zimbabwe College of Public Health Practitioners (ZCPHP), and other specialist professional colleges (Physicians, Immunologists, Paediatricians etc) should make their positions clear as independent professional and academic bodies.
The Medicines Control Authority (MCAZ) as regulator must speak on behalf of government.
They must clear the air on efficacy and safety. Publish statistics and expert analyses of the program as we go along. We have now given close to 400 000 first doses; what have we learnt? We need to hear more from the Zimbabwe National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (ZimNITAG).
These, and not post-cabinet briefings, are the institutions that will inspire confidence in the population and eliminate vaccine hesitancy.
There are questions that the government must clarify to Zimbabweans:
Why is it taking so long for the Sinopharm & Sinovac vaccines to get World Health Organization Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)? Are there other cost effective vaccines that have been approved by WHO that could be suitable for Zimbabwe? Are we utilizing the Covax facility optimally?
Why did we not take a regional approach to vaccine choice when we know that at least 95% of the Covid-19 infections in Zimbabwe are due to the South African variant?
Does South Africa know something we do not know regarding the best choice of vaccines for our region? South Africa is a regional leader with more resources, both scientific and economic, and their choices in this regard cannot be ignored.
The China CDC Director made a rare material public comment regarding Efficacy of Chinese developed Covid-19 vaccines according to the public media.
We are still waiting for the government of Zimbabwe to clarify to us what he meant and how that should influence our perception of the Chinese vaccines.
Whenever there is a development that can have significant impact on our thinking regarding safety, efficacy and effectiveness of the vaccines, it is mandatory for government to come out clearly and illuminate our minds on current government thinking.
This thinking should not be random and purely political, but should be based on sound scientific advice supported by the experts in the field.
Let us borrow a leaf from other countries that have shown a great deal of transparency regarding efficacy and safety issues. South Africa, most of Europe and America had issues with the AstraZeneca & Johnson and Johnson vaccines and they communicated their findings and courses of action clearly to their citizens.
We expect a similar level of transparency and accountability to the population. It builds confidence in the vaccination program.
Vaccine hesitancy is fuelled by mystery and opacity.
We are not yet out of the woods. Let us learn from India and other countries that thought the worst was over, but are now battling a ferocious second wave.
Our hearts go out to the people of India at this very trying period in their history. We greatly appreciate the help they have given to Zimbabwe, and indeed to Africa as a whole, and we pray for their speedy recovery as a nation.
In conclusion, YES, we need Zimbabweans vaccinated as fast as we can. Winter is fast approaching. Equip health professionals to drive the messaging. It is not too late. Improve transparency as a government and hold yourselves accountable to Zimbabweans. Together we will beat covid-19 and prevent catastrophe.
Robert Tapfumaneyi

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