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Zambia, South Africa yet to resolve yellow fever impasse

DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’S drive to banish yellow fever from its territory is now a reality and the country has been declared yellow fever free.
When Zambia started the yellow fever immunisation decades ago, little did people know that the ambition would yield positive results and see Zambia declared a yellow fever free zone.
Nobody enjoys injections and so it seemed particularly wonderful to get all travel documents ready and get off to either the airport or any place of departure.
Now that World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Zambia as yellow fever free zone, the move is welcome news to many who feel it will ease the hustle that those leaving and entering Zambia had to face.
And with the current economic difficulties, the immunisation programme experienced several setbacks, including the illegal access of certification, as most would-be travellers preferred to go for unauthorised dealers.
Despite the declaration, scores of Zambians travelling mostly to South Africa are still purchasing the fake yellow fever certificates instead of administering the yellow fever vaccine, exposing the country to the deadly yellow fever epidemic.
Despite the WHO declaration, South African authorities still require that all visitors must be vaccinated against yellow fever and be able to produce a valid yellow fever certificate together with their passport at all points of entry and exit.
The yellow fever vaccine prevents the international spread of the disease by protecting countries from the risk of importing or spreading the yellow fever virus. It also protects individual travelers, who may be exposed to yellow fever infection.
“We have recently been made aware that Zambia has been declared free of yellow fever by WHO. It seems that the authorities in South Africa are still enforcing the requirement that any person visiting from Zambia needs to obtain a yellow fever vaccination and certificate. It seems, however, that the two countries are in discussion following the announcement from WHO, and we need this resolved urgently because it is an inconvenience,” a Lusaka-based cross border trader Janet Bwalya said.
Yellow fever is a tropical viral disease affecting the liver and kidneys. It causes fever and jaundice and is often fatal. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and is incurable.
A check at the Lusaka Bus Intercity Station found vendors openly selling yellow fever vaccination certificates to Zambians who were buying tickets to travel to South Africa for recess.
The travellers, who were interviewed, said the yellow fever vaccine cost was high at the Lusaka District Health office and they had no choice but to purchase the fake certificate for K250.
Mr Chama Mwila, who was en route to Durban to collect a car shipped from Japan, said he chose to buy the fake yellow fever certificate instead of getting vaccinated so that he could cut his expenses.
“The yellow fever vaccine is unaffordable and the idea of an injection is not welcome. I hear WHO has declared Zambia yellow fever free but South Africa has not recognised that.
“Bus fare to Johannesburg costs K500, which adds to K800 if you get your yellow fever certificate from the authorised point but if you get from intercity, it will cost you K750 and you tend to save a K50, which one can [use to] buy food on the way. If you factor in the proper vaccine, the travelling costs can easily sky rocket,” he said.
A source at the Lusaka Urban District Health Management Team says the declaration is a welcome move as it will stop people from being duped by fraudsters claiming to be issuing certificates.
The source, who sought anonymity, said yellow fever was a lethal viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes and those that purchase yellow fever certificates fraudulently put their lives and the country at risk.
“If you purchase the yellow fever certificate through fraudulent means, you are endangering your health because in reality, your body system is not protected from the infection. Furthermore, once an infected person returns to the country with the infection, the whole country is susceptible to infection because once a mosquito bites an infected person and moves to another person, it will transmit the virus,” the source said.
The source further said if anyone were to be infected with yellow fever, the effects would be fatal for the whole country as we still have mosquitoes that have a potential of transferring the infection throughout the country.
“Yellow fever is incurable and now that we have been declared free zone, it is even better because before then, it was important that those going out should be inoculated, to protect the country against the potential scourge of yellow fever no matter how much the infection risks are said to be low,” she said.
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus that is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. It gets its name from the yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) that occurs when the virus attacks the liver. Yellow fever can be prevented by a vaccine.
In November 2013, Zambia reported South Africa to WHO for demanding yellow fever certificates from travellers.
Samples from various parts of Zambia were taken to WHO and recently, Zambia was declared a yellow fever free zone.

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