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Investigative: Collapsed infrastructure: Another hurdle in Zimbabwe’s vaccination path

Zimbabwe is racing against time to repair its road infrastructure which was greatly affected by heavy rains experienced across the Southern African country.

Due to incessant downpours, which resulted in floods in some areas, have broken links between some communities and the rest of the country.

If Zimbabwe is serious about scaling up its Covid-19 vaccine rollout to reach the length and breadth of the country, they face a mammoth task of repairing infrastructure in remote areas.

The trail of destruction caused by heavy rains experienced in Zimbabwe had disrupted the road network, Government had to declare the state of roads a national disaster.

Roads have become a pandemic in their own right.

The country rolled out its COVID-19 vaccine program in mid-February with health workers getting the first of 200 000 Sinopharm vaccines donated by China with the second phase expected to commence later this month.

The program targets to inoculate 10 million citizens and achieve herd immunity.

However, the first phase experienced challenges in some parts of the country where damaged bridges and roads have rendered some health facilities inaccessible for frontline workers to get their jab.

A fortnight ago, Headlands area in Manicaland Province received above normal rains which swept away Mwarazi Bridge linking Headlands and Makoni North Constituency.

Two cars and a motorcycle plunged into the sinkhole.

Access to clinics and other key services centres such as schools and the Grain Marketing Board depots have been cut off as a result.

In parts of Chimanimani, rivers have burst, flooding access roads.

Last month, flash floods also hit the Siakobvu area, 450km north-west of Harare in Mashonaland West Province, resulting in landslides at Ndepa, damaging the access road completely and rendering Mayovhe, Mola and Chalala clinics inaccessible.

In these areas, authorities had to devise other methods to transport the COVID-19 vaccines to the cut-off areas.

“Government has arranged a boat that would be used to take Covid-19 vaccines to those affected communities in Mola, Mayovhe and Chalala which can no longer be reached by road,” said Director of Local Government in Mashonaland West Province, Cecilia Chitiyo addressing a virtual youth dialogue meeting recently.

Even then, it is evident that the treasury is already strained and the health budget cannot sustain the cost of alternative transport to ensure all impassable areas access the vaccine on time.

With more vaccines coming, unless a special fund is availed to solve the logistics headache, some remote communities may watch from a distance as the country is inoculated.

As things stand, it appears time is running out before flood-damaged bridges and roads in remote areas are restored.

In Chimanimani, the road leading to Nyachowa Falls is impassable after floods destroyed a bridge which is yet to be rebuilt.

A lot of the infrastructure in that part of the country is relatively fragile after enduring record torrents when Cyclone Idai hit barely two years ago.

It seems the solution to this predicament will not come easily, the District Development Fund (DDF) in charge of 32 000 kilometres of rural road network across the country recently raised a red flag citing inadequate funding from the Zimbabwe National Road Authority.

So far it has received $400 million from the authority against a budget of $1,7 billion.

“Our initial budget was $1,7 billion for the rehabilitation of our 32 000 kilometres of road across the country.

The money that we have received so far falls far short of what we require but we are grateful and hopeful that very soon we are going to receive more funding from the Government,” DDF acting director of roads Engineer Goodwell Mapako told state-media recently.

It appears, the government will rely on the existing systems it has been using for the child immunization programs over the years which involve using localized means of transport such as boats and motorcycles to reach cut-off areas.

“We are not reinventing the wheel in our rollout plan. We are using existing structures integrating into our already robust expanded program on immunization that immunizes children from measles, diphtheria you name it, and all those children are everywhere in Zimbabwe including those areas. 

It’s the same systems we are going to use and systems are already in place and teams on the ground know what to do when they get to such places that are difficult to reach out to,” said Dr Agnes Mahomva, Chief Co-ordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet.

Analysts are wary that the target set by authorities is not going to be met.

To date, Zimbabwe has vaccinated just 37 000 citizens since it started its rollout four weeks ago against countries such as Rwanda that has immunized over 230 000 in just three weeks.

“The issue of infrastructure is very serious in the rural areas because our roads are suffering from neglect. It will be very difficult for rural dwellers to access vaccines with the current flooding.

Some of our members are actually failing to travel to schools as we speak-those who wanted to go work because some bridges have been washed away. So it’s going to affect the smooth flow of the process,” said Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Association (ARTUZ).

Zimbabwe is relying on vaccination to arrest the spread of Covid-19 and free its largely informal economy. With the slow uptake and infrastructure problems, it may be a long wait until there is a semblance of normalcy in the country.

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