CHIMWEMWE MWALE – Lusaka
IT has been a a challenge for most travellers to South Africa, a country that is evidently one of the busiest connecting hubs for both regional and transcontinental air travel.
The mandatory requirement to be vaccinated against yellow fever to subsequently obtain a yellow fever certificate continues to irk many international itinerants in Zambia as this also comes at a cost of K300 besides the hectic run to the Lusaka District Health offices where the vaccination is administered.
This may, however, change as the good news has filtered in from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicating that Zambia has a low yellow fever potential exposure status.
In accordance with WHO international health regulations, the low yellow fever potential exposure status entails that yellow fever vaccinations are no longer recommended contrary to the existing state of affairs in Zambia.
This in essence is an effective declaration of Zambia as a yellow fever-free zone, which is also envisaged to impact positively on the countryâ€™s tourism industry which government has identified as a key sector with immense potential to help grow the economy.
The status of Zambia as a yellow fever-free zone is also significant for Africa in view of the negative publicity the continent gets because of the disease burden including the deadly vicious Ebola in some West African countries.
The Ebola outbreak has negatively impacted tourism in many African countries due to the belief that the whole continent has been affected.
Minister of Health Joseph Kasonde acknowledged receipt of a letter from WHO indicating that Zambia has attained low yellow fever potential exposure status.
Dr Kasonde said recently that this development is a result of scientific studies conducted by WHO in Zambia in 2013.
â€œI am pleased to inform the nation that we recently received a letter from the Director General of the World Health Organisation where she advised that results from scientific studies done in Zambia in 2013 have been analysed.
â€œIt has been shown from these scientific studies that Zambia has low yellow fever potential exposure status,â€ the minister said.
The development, Dr Kasonde said, also means that travellers from Zambia to other countries do not need vaccination certificates for yellow fever to enter any country in the world.
He was however quick to point out that the final decisions are yet to be made by the concerned respective countries.
â€œTo this effect, the Zambian Government has written to the South African Government and to the Government of Botswana drawing their attention to this scientific fact.
â€œWe have requested them to re-look at their demands for yellow fever certificates from Zambian travellers. We await their responses,â€ Dr Kasonde explained.
Yellow fever is defined as an acute systemic illness-a haemorrhagic fever- caused by the Flavi virus.
Acute means it comes on rapidly, while systemic entails that it affects the personâ€™s whole body.
In severe cases, yellow fever causes a high fever, bleeding into the skin and death of cells in the liver and kidneys.
Liver damage results in severe jaundice (yellowing of the skin) hence the name â€˜yellow feverâ€™.
According to WHO, there are approximately 200,000 cases of yellow fever worldwide each year and 30,000 deaths.
WHO further states that about 90 percent of all yellow fever cases occur in Africa.
Yellow fever has an incubation period of between three and six days. This means that the disease takes between three to six days for yellow fever signs and symptoms to appear after a person is infected.
The disease cannot spread from human-to-human. It is spread by infection carrying mosquitoes to humans.
The ailmentâ€™s signs and symptoms are in two categories. The first if the acute stage which is also referred to as the initial stage. This stage shows early symptoms of yellow fever which may include aching muscles, particularly the back and knees, and an elevated body temperature (fever).
The second stage is where the affected person starts feeling dizzy, has headache, experiences loss of appetite, nausea, shivers (chills) and vomiting.
But notwithstanding the newly acquired low yellow fever status, government has advised Zambian travellers to South Africa and Botswana to continue carrying their yellow fever vaccination certificates until the matter is conclusively resolved with the two governments.
This is because there is no formal response from South Africa and Botswana authorities following the request by government to reconsider their current demand for yellow fever vaccination certificates from Zambian travellers at their points of entry and exit.
â€œWe need to have patience and wait until they respond to our request. In the meantime, I recommend that travellers to South Africa and Botswana should continue producing their yellow fever certificates until government resolves the issue,â€ Dr Kasonde advised.
Going by the scientific findings by WHO, the die is cast and sooner or later, Zambian travellers will not have the â€˜extra dutyâ€™ of carrying yellow fever vaccination certificates.
These certificates have for some time been inseparable from passports and other cross border travel documents when roving to South Africa and Botswana.
In the case of South Africa, even merely transiting through this country, has been a thorny issue for those without yellow fever vaccination certificates.
CHIMWEMWE MWALE – Lusaka