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ZimRights sues govt over Covid-19

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THE Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) has issued the government a seven-day ultimatum to release critical information on the procurement and rollout strategy of Covid-19 vaccines.

NYASHA CHINGONO
The human rights organisation on Wednesday filed an urgent High Court application citing President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the minister of Health, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Finance minister Mthuli Ncube as respondents, compelling them to release a comprehensive budget for Covid-19 vaccines in Parliament.

The application, filed by lawyer Tendai Biti, came after the ministry of Health ignored a letter written by the rights group on 27 January giving the government seven days to release the information on Covid vaccines.

ZimRights contends that due to the rising Covid-19 cases and fatalities, the government must treat the issue of vaccines as a matter of urgency.

“This application is one to compel the respondents to publicise a Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan and strategy,” reads the application.

The rights organisation argues that the government should also provide a comprehensive financial plan to back up the vaccination programme.

“The obligation to acquire the vaccine, surely must be a primary role of the government. It is embarrassing that the 2021 National Budget did not provide for that reaction and purchase of vaccine drugs. It is embarrassing that in this late stage, there is no plan for the acquisition of Covid-19 drugs,” the application reads.

“This is an application to compel the government to provide the resources and publish a plan for the registration of Covid vaccines, the storage of Covid vaccine and most importantly the distribution plan for these vaccines,” further reads the application.

ZimRights lawyers state that government has failed to kickstart a critical Covid-19 campaign in comparison to other African countries who have already begun vaccine rollout programmes.

“Notwithstanding the availability of the vaccines, the respondents, jointly and severally have failed to put in measures to ensure the rollout and availability of the Covid-19 vaccines to Zimbabweans. Their failure has resulted in the loss of life. In short, the respondent omissions and commissions have breached the rights of Zimbabweans to life and health protected by the constitution of Zimbabwe,” the lawyers argue.

The government has been accused of failing to communicate a clear strategy to combat the pandemic post the lockdown, which was extended last week by another 14 days.

ZimRights says the government should put in place measures to ensure the evaluation and registration of Covid-19 vaccines, adding that Zimbabwe had failed to submit full applications to the World Health Organisation for the international Covax programme.

“The first respondent (Minister of Health) has failed to work with other organisations such as the African Union, SADC and other regional governments such as South Africa in order to ensure vaccine support to the Republic of Zimbabwe,” reads the application.

“As we hereby do, that the government discloses the plan and status of the procurement plan and strategy of Covid-19 vaccines to the nation including timelines and the rollout plan for the vaccine. In the event of failure to publish the information requested, our client shall pursue other actions to enforce its fundamental rights in terms of the constitution.

“The rationale and purpose of this application is to seek a declarator declaring the respondents’ omission in failing to provide Covid-19 vaccines to Zimbabwe as a breach of Zimbabweans’ right to life and health as protected by Section 48 and 78 of the Constitution.”

“We therefore seek for an (order) inter alia that compels the respondents to do the following. Allocate, disclose the budget and identify the resources that will be required to purchase and distribute the Covid-19 vaccine. Provide and publish times frames for acquisition and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine and the cost thereof. Publish a detailed National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for Covid-19 vaccines with requisite time frames and implementation.”

Despite having a year to plan for an upsurge in cases and procurement of Covid-19 vaccines, an investigation by The NewsHawks a fortnight ago showed the government was yet to write to the WHO to officially request vaccines under the Covax facility.

The NewsHawks also gathered that Zimbabwe’s bid to acquire the Chinese vaccine had been marred by government lethargy.

Although government officials maintain there are funds to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, they have not given any timelines on procurement, vaccine name, type or origin as well as how the vaccination programme will be carried out.

Some African countries have either ordered vaccines or taken delivery of their first batches as is the case with South Africa.

In a letter written to the government on 27 January through its lawyers DNM Attorneys, ZimRights expressed fear that the second wave of infections would further strain the health sector where the recovery rate has tumbled from 90% in December to 60% in January 2021.

“Since the turn of 2021, Zimbabwe has witnessed a sharp spike in Covid-19 infections and fatalities. It is evident that the pandemic has landed in the country in full force and it continues to stretch and test the capacity of our healthcare system,” the letter reads that government ignored.

“Official statistics seem to show that the national recovery rate has plummeted from over 90% in December to 60% in January 2021. In desperation to survive the pandemic, the citizens have resorted to untested domestic remedies; whose efficacy is suspect to say the least.”

The lawyers accuse President Mnangagwa of failing: “to protect the people of Zimbabwe by acquiring testing and providing a rollout plan for Covid-19 vaccines.”

ZimRight’s bid to force government transparency follows a High Court order compelling the Health ministry to disseminate information on private and public testing, isolation and treatment of Covid-19.

The order was granted on 21 January following an urgent application filed by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe.

Misa says the current information and reportage is inadequate and uninformative.

There have been concerns over the government’s reporting of the Covid-19 pandemic, raising fears that infection numbers and deaths are being under-reported.

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