BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
A SENIOR health official has said COVID-19 vaccines being used in Zimbabwe are safe for people living with HIV, especially those on anti-retroviral therapy.
Paul Chinakidzwa, the deputy director of health promotions in the Health ministry said this while addressing a virtual media briefing on HIV and COVID-19, which was convened by the Zimbabwe Association of Church-Related Hospitals (Zach).
Chinakidzwa said people living with HIV had one or more comorbidities that may put them at risk for more severe COVID-19 infection if they were not vaccinated.
“COVID-19 vaccines for which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued recommendations are safe for people with HIV,” he said.
Chinakidzwa added that the vaccines often include genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, but do not contain the whole virus, meaning that the virus could not replicate.
“As they are not live vaccines, they are not expected to be less safe in people who are immuno-compromised,” he said.
Chinakidzwa said without vaccines, people would be at risk of serious illness, disability and death from preventable diseases.
“In future, if you are exposed to the germ (virus/bacteria) your system can quickly identify and destroy it before you become unwell,” he said.
However, some stakeholders said COVID-19 lockdowns had impacted negatively on treatment of people on ARVs.
Zach public health adviser Vimbai Mandizvidza said while lockdowns were largely successful in slowing down COVID-19 infections, they reduced access to health services.
“Clients were failing to access care at sites of their choice. There was also widespread fear of forced disclosure and stigmatisation by police at roadblocks,” she said.
Mandizvidza said community health workers were not able to supply self-testing kits, among others.
“The pandemic affected the movement of medication and laboratory consumables. Health institutions screened clients visiting health facilities, asking questions to make sure people were not exposed. Triangling clients who had flu-like symptoms were seen first.
“To reduce the client-clinic visits, it was recommended that a client receives at least three months’ supply of ARVs and at most six months,” Mandizvidza said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has done well in the HIV and Aids fight, but remains burdened by the disease.
Zach technical adviser for the HIV prevention, treatment care and support, Onai Diura Vere said currently 1,4 million people were living with HIV and of these, 1,3 million were adults.
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