Jeffrey Moyo, Inter Press Service

More than a month ago, she lost her parents, brother, and wife, to the coronavirus. Then her fiancé battled COVID-19, but 27-year-old Melinda Gavi said she had not contracted the disease.

Gavi joined crowds scrambling to get vaccinated at Parirenyatwa hospital in the Zimbabwean capital Harare even though she was previously sceptical about getting vaccinated against the dreaded disease.

Her parents, brother, and wife were equally sceptical of the COVID-19 vaccines before they were visited by the disease, which eventually claimed their lives.

In a country of about 15 million people, nearly 5.5 million have had at least had one dose of the vaccine the Reuters COVID-19 tracker, which assuming that each person needs two doses, represents 18.8% of the population.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed in October that Zimbabwe had received 943 200 COVID-19 vaccine doses from the global COVAX Facility in September and October for its ongoing vaccination campaign.

doctors hand draw a vaccine dose from a vial

IPS has been following the rollout of the vaccines in various centres over the past few months, recording people’s personal experiences in the queues.

Gavi says it has taken her days to get vaccinated.

“This is my third day coming here at Parirenyatwa to try and get vaccinated,” Gavi told IPS as she stood in a long and meandering queue at Zimbabwe’s biggest hospital.

About 200 people gathered at the back of the hospital, some looking tired as they lingered in the queue. Some sat on the pavements and or flower beds, waiting for their turn to get vaccinated in the slow-moving queue.

“We have limited vaccines, and often on a day we are vaccinating just 80 people and everybody else often just goes back home without getting vaccinated,” a nurse who refused to be named as she was unauthorised to speak to the media, told IPS.

In February this year, Zimbabwe began vaccinating its citizens against coronavirus after receiving a donation of 200 000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

But when the vaccine first arrived, it was met with growing scepticism from social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook, which fuelled the vaccine hesitancy.

This is no longer the case. Now healthcare workers have to battle hordes of people scrambling for the vaccine.

“With time, as more and more people got vaccinated without severe safety fears, the public became more assured, and demand for vaccines gradually started to rise,” said epidemiologist Dr Grant Murewanhema in Harare.

In Bulawayo, on July 8, in the presence of IPS, at the United Bulawayo Hospital, a nurse moved along the queue of people waiting to get vaccinated, counting up to 60 recipients. She told the rest to return the next day.

She told them she only had enough vaccines for 60 people.

At number 60 was 47-year-old Jimmy Dzingai, who said he was a truck driver.

“Oh, better, at least I am going to get vaccinated,” said Dzingai then as he heaved a sigh of relief, folding his hands across his chest.

Meanwhile, as they were told to leave, others did so but grumbled as they filed outside the hospital, some waving their face masks in anger, shouting at hospital authorities for turning them away.

“This is not the first time I am coming here to try and get vaccinated. I have been here four times, and this is my fifth day starting mid-June – only to get excuses,” 54-year-old Limukani Dlela, a man who said he lived in Matsheumhlope, a low-density suburb in Bulawayo, told IPS saying that at times the excuse was that there not enough vaccines available and at other times there were a limited number of vaccines.

Corruption and nepotism have characterised this Southern African country’s bitter war against COVID-19, and many people like Dzingai, the truck driver, have not been spared by the rot.

As Dzingai stood at the end of the queue, four middle-aged women strode past him and all others, going straight to the head of the queue and quickly got vaccinated and left.

According to one of the nurses who manned the queue, “the four were staff members and couldn’t wait in the queue like everybody else.”

The nurse said this even though the four women, after receiving doses, immediately left the premises just like any other ordinary person.

“I was talking to my bosses right now, and my truck has been loaded for me to take the delivery to Zambia. I have told my bosses I was getting my vaccine. Instead, you are telling me I’m not going to be vaccinated. You should get water to inject me and give me the vaccine certificate. I will not leave this place without the vaccine,” swore the truck driver.

But the nurse would have none of it.

“You won’t be vaccinated today. That won’t happen, unfortunately,” she said.

Dzingai vowed to stay put at the hospital until he was vaccinated, but because the four women who jumped the queue and got vaccinated before him, it meant he (Dzingai) and three others who had waited at the end of the queue had to leave without the jab.

With many Zimbabweans like Dzingai now eager to get vaccinated, the government has so far authorised the use of China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm, Russia’s Sputnik V, and India’s Covaxin and the U.S. Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

It has not, however, been easy for people to get the doses. Now bribery has become the order of the day at Zimbabwe’s hospitals like Sally Mugabe Referral hospital in the capital Harare.

Lydia Gono (24), from Southertorn middle-income suburb in Harare, said she had to ‘switch to her purse’, which is local parlance for a bribe, to get quickly vaccinated at Sally Mugabe hospital, the closest medical facility to her home.

“I spent close to a week trying to get vaccinated here without success, but today I just rolled a US 10 dollar note in my hand and shook the hand of a nurse who manned the queue, leaving the note in her hand. I was taken to the front and vaccinated without any delay,” Gono told IPS.

Tired of the corruption and nepotism and the delaying tactics characterising the vaccination process at public healthcare centres, many middle-income earners like 35-year-old Daiton Sununguro have opted for the private medical centres to get their vaccines parting with US 40 dollars for a single dose.

“Paying is better than having to wait for many hours before getting the vaccine at public healthcare facilities. I will still come back and pay the other US 40 dollars for my second dose,” Sununguro told IPS at a posh private medical facility in Harare’s Mount Pleasant low-density suburb.

COVID-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto To: Policy Makers

Petition Text

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the urgency of changing global structures of inequity and violence. We, people around the world, will seize this historical moment. We are building solidarity at every level: local, national, global. Despite the need to physically distance, we are building mutual aid groups, community networks, and social movements. We declare this manifesto today to offer a vision of the world we are building, the world we are demanding, the world we will achieve.

1. We demand strong, universal health care systems and health care as a basic right for all humans.

2. We demand an immediate global ceasefire in all conflicts and an end to the disease of war. We demand that every nation move at least half its military spending to provide health care, housing, childcare, nutrition, education, Internet access, and other social needs so we can truly protect people’s physical, psychological, and economic security, including through the closure of foreign military bases, the cessation of military exercises, and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

3. We demand that unsustainable capitalist economies, based on the fantasy of endless growth, be replaced with cooperatively based economies of care, where human life, biodiversity, and our natural resources are conserved and a universal basic income is guaranteed so that governments can work together to combat the existential threat of climate change.

4. We demand an immediate lifting of all sanctions targeting entire nations, which are impoverishing vulnerable populations and killing people by blocking access to medicines and medical supplies.

5. We demand that all workers be protected against COVID-19 and have their long-term occupational health, economic, and labor rights guaranteed.

6. We demand the full protection of all people, especially the most vulnerable, including women and other victims of intimate partner violence and child abuse, the elderly, the impoverished, prisoners and detainees, refugees and other displaced peoples, migrants regardless of immigration status, the homeless, LGBTQIA+ individuals, racial/ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and those disability or ability challenged, among others.

7. We demand that wealthy nations live up to their responsibility to provide medical aid (including through the World Health Organization) and debt relief to save lives in countries without strong public health systems because of long histories of colonialism, neocolonialism, and other exploitation, foreign and domestic.

8. We demand that governments and corporations respect privacy and not exploit the pandemic to expand repressive measures such as surveillance, detention without trial, and restrictions on basic human rights to assembly, free expression, self-determination, and the vote.

9. We demand that when governments implement economic stimulus programs and re-open their economies they prioritize the needs of people over the interests of corporate, financial, and political elites.

In a world where the gap between rich and poor is obscene, with the world’s richest 1% having more than twice the wealth of 6.9 billion people, a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power globally and within nations is imperative. Every human being must have the opportunity to live a healthy, creative, and fulfilling life, free of the ravages of poverty, exploitation, and domination.

Why is this important?

A group of around 50 people from more than 12 countries drafted the Manifesto in recent weeks. Many prominent people are supporting it. People in general are more awake to the absurdity of a planet in which the richest 8 people have more wealth than the poorest 3.8 billion than ever before as this pandemic spreads. We are circulating this widely in multiple languages to help frame the debate and actions moving forward, raising global demands that address the inequity resulting from decades of neoliberal economic policies and rampant and unbridled militarism.