Harare faces BCG vaccine shortages

HARARE parents are stranded as they are failing to access the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine dose which is administered to newborn babies within hours of birth.

A dose of the vaccine is part of the national childhood immunisation programme administered to babies who are 28 weeks old or younger.

A single dose of the vaccine which protects children under the age of five against tuberculosis (TB), meningitis, other severe forms of TB is not recommended after 28 weeks.

Most of Harare City Council-owned primary healthcare facilities across the capital do not have the vaccine while Central hospitals require referral letters to administer it, and at the same time, private healthcare institutions are charging exorbitant amounts for it.

A survey has indicated that private healthcare providers are demanding anything between US$30 and US$50 to cover consultation and the BCG jab which is ordinarily administered free of charge in public health institutions.

Desperate parents who have tried their luck at big hospitals have been referred back to their local clinics which are currently either operating at subdued capacity or have shut operations.

Others have given up and decided to forgo the BCG vaccination process which is a disaster as the vaccine helps infant’s immune system to fight germs that cause TB and failure to get BCG places the minors at high risk of getting diseases and may also lead to future health complications.

Experts believe there is an urgent need to deal with a potential crisis.

The vaccination procedure has been declared mandatory by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recommends that BCG be administered to all children living in highly endemic countries, as well as infants and children at particular risk of TB exposure in otherwise low-endemic areas.

Some health officials have noted there will be an increase in the number of people seeking vaccination as their operations have scaled-down due to different reasons.

“We only vaccinate a limited number of those who come in early on Tuesdays and Thursdays because we take limited numbers because we are short-staffed.”

Harare City Council has 43 health facilities and only 15 are operational.

Of the 43 facilities, 12 are polyclinics, two are hospitals, Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital and Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospitals and the rest are satellite and family health clinics.

Satellite clinics in Glen Norah, Kuwadzana, Western Triangle, Tafara, Belvedere, Avondale and Braeside and Highlands have been closed for some time.

Southerton and Matapi polyclinics are also no longer functional due to staff shortages.

For the few who are still operating, the staff is accused of demanding bribes from desperate patients.

A single polyclinic is designed to service a community of about 50 000 people.