BY MOSES MUGUGUNYEKI/NQOBANI NDLOVU
HEALTH experts have warned that Zimbabwe faces a fourth wave of deadly COVID-19 virus if the country fails to get more people inoculated, and that a third jab might be needed to help fight off emerging variants.
The fourth wave will be “more serious” and was likely to hit the country by year end at a time when the health system is broken from years of neglect and personnel shortages.
While the country has been recording falling numbers of new infections and deaths as the end of the winter season approaches, the Health ministry statistics on COVID-19 on Saturday revealed that the country is still in the red zone after recording 445 new cases; pushing the cumulative total to 115 890. It also recorded 21 deaths on the same day, raising the national death toll to 3 826.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a third wave of the global pandemic, with the Delta variant, a strain of COVID-19 taking its toll. The variant has been identified in at least 85 countries in the world.
Other variants of concern include Alpha, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, Beta, which was identified in neighbouring South Africa, Gamma identified in Brazil and Delta, identified in India.
Public health expert and president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe Johannes Marisa yesterday said a more deadly wave of COVID-19 was likely hit the country by the end of the year.
He said after nine months, COVID-19 jabs would be useless, adding that by the complacent behaviour of people who relax once they see the number of infections declining the situation maybe worse. He said some countries were already advocating for third jabs to intensify immunity.
“We are likely to face the fourth wave of COVID-19 around October to December,” Marisa said.
“Look at what is happening throughout the world. The United States is already facing trouble with the fourth wave. The world is panicking with some countries advocating for third jabs in order to boost the immune system. The passive immunity we get from jabs will last for nine months, that is disastrous, it means after nine months the jabs will be useless,” he said.
Marisa said Zimbabwe was likely to miss out on the third jabs considering the way the vaccination programme was being administered.
He said countries such as the US, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Tunisia were already on the edge of the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Marisa said some of the cases likely to fuel the fourth wave would emanate from countries such as South Africa and UK, which have since eased COVID-19 restrictions and warned that Zimbabwe should not follow suit.
“With the world behaving like this, I foresee disaster. How can a country like South Africa, which is in the midst of a frightening Delta-fuelled spike in infections, relax its restrictions? How can the UK remove all the COVID-19 restrictions? Look now, there is a spike in new infections in those countries,” he said.
Zimbabwe is targeting to vaccinate 60% of its population (approximately 10 million people) to achieve herd immunity and Marisa said this should be accelerated.
“This is the time to get people vaccinated or else we might have a fourth wave. However, the exercise had been slow, politicised and communities are failing to abide by COVID-19 regulations and there is political expediency at the expense of protecting people,” Marisa said.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said the fourth wave was imminent as the vaccination rates of most African countries, Zimbabwe included, remained low with less than 2% of the population having been fully vaccinated.
As of Saturday, 1 002 261 people in the country had been fully vaccinated.
“Our biggest worry is on the unvaccinated population and the schoolchildren that are not yet being vaccinated. A lot more schoolchildren that are not yet eligible for vaccination will be infected by the highly virulent Delta variant and this will be a pandemic for the unvaccinated with catastrophic consequences to the already broken and overwhelmed public health delivery services that are failing to manage the high number of people needing hospitalisation,” Rusike said.
“There is need to strengthen the health delivery services by recruiting and retaining more workers, increasing hospital beds, provision of liquid oxygen and suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) and making sure that there are reasonable incentives for the health workers who are continuing to risk their health in order to save lives.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said the mass exodus of health personnel, especially nurses, will further put pressure on the country’s already overwhelmed health delivery system amid new deadlier variants of COVID-19.
“We are in a war due to the COVID-19 situation, and the people that are fighting that war have to be motivated, but sadly they are demotivated and intimidated by the system. Nurses are leaving the country in numbers although we do not have ready statistics of those that have left in recent weeks,” Dongo said.
Chief co-ordinator of the COVID-19 taskforce, Agnes Mahomva yesterday said: “We are prepared for everything. We continue to analyse these pandemics, and if you recall, we quickly responded to the first and second waves of the pandemic. For the third wave, we were up to the task and measures were put in place to contain the spread of the disease, and within a month we are seeing the figures going down. We have a strategic plan to deal with the pandemic whether it is first, second, third or fourth wave.”
Health deputy minister John Mangwiro refused to comment on the mass exodus of nurses during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, saying that that was a “human resources department matter”.