News article

Rush to deliver cholera vaccines to remote communities in Zimbabwe

It was a mad rush to the airfield. At the back of the jeep, Abi Kebra Belaye and her colleague Shamiso Nyasanu tensely shuffled papers – waybills of vaccines and other essential medical materials that needed to be dropped by helicopter in north-east Zimbabwe.

It wasn’t the first time they had made this trip – the last one failed. The weather was gloomy then, with thunderstorms roaring from the mountain ridge, making it too risky to fly any aircraft.

This time, there was too much at stake. The Ministry of Health and Child Care had just launched a seven-day campaign to vaccinate what would be more than 480 000 people against cholera. But some locations couldn’t be reached by any other means but helicopter.

After pummelling Mozambique and the border area of neighbouring Zimbabwe on 14 March, Cyclone Idai had decimated the road network, leaving some villages in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts cut off from the rest of the country.

The disaster had already triggered a cholera outbreak in Mozambique, which had affected more than 3 000 people and raised alarms for the Government of Zimbabwe.

Health officials in Harare immediately moved into protective response mode, organizing a vaccination campaign and determining the coordinates for the most vulnerable areas: communities where water and sanitation infrastructure had been destroyed or a large number of their population had been displaced and thus more susceptible to cholera outbreaks. Communities with proximity to cross-border channels with Mozambique were considered especially at risk.

“As an exercise in proactive response, the Ministry of Health and Child Care demonstrated the type of disaster mitigation approach that is so situation-changing in times of catastrophe. Their leadership on this was impressive,” Alex Gasasira, WHO Representative for Zimbabwe, pointed out, long after no cholera case ever emerged.   

Many partners already helping the Health Ministry tackle the disaster’s impacts on multiple fronts, pitched in to support the Government’s vaccination campaign, including the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Médecins Sans Frontières, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

To read more visit the WHO Africa page here

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