By Joyce Mukucha
HARARE – As it continues to ensure that citizens’ rights are protected especially during public health emergencies, such as the Covid-19 pandemic vaccination programme, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission(ZHRC) has called upon all stakeholders to avoid any coercive measures that directly or indirectly compel people to get vaccinated against their choice.
In a statement, ZHRC applauded the Government for the COVID-19 vaccination roll out programme but at the same time bemoaned actions by other organisations which include direct coercion of employees to undergo vaccination, disregarding the employees’ freedom of choice, prohibiting unvaccinated employees to come to work thereby cutting their salaries.
“The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission continues to monitor the protection, promotion and enjoyment of human rights in the context of the ravaging new Corona virus strain and acknowledges efforts by the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic through various restrictive measures including promulgation of Statutory Instrument (S.I) 198 of 2021 Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (No.2) (Amendment) Order, 2021(No.30). The S.I. stipulates restrictive measures to be followed and maintains the strict Level 4 lockdown to curtail the surge of COVID -19 cases which has been attributed to ‘general complacency in adhering to set protocols” by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
“As such, it is the obligation of the duty bearers to ensure that its citizens are protected especially during public health emergencies. “The ZHRC commends the GoZ for the COVID-19 vaccination roll out programme which, was initially met with resistance in some quarters but has gradually been embraced by the generality of citizens and commended by the World Health Organisation as a well-coordinated programme.
“The Commission acknowledges the initiative of testing and vaccinating frontline workers.
“However, a number of media platforms have raised concerns of corporations directly coercing employees to undergo vaccination, disregarding the employees’ freedom of choice, integrity of the person, right to dignity and existence of underlying medical conditions. Some public institutions and private companies are allegedly prohibiting unvaccinated employees access to their premises or workstations and others are purportedly having their salaries deducted,” the statement reads.
The ZHRC indicated that the commission is aware that vaccination is for the general protection of the individual’s rights to health and life and urged Government to continue encouraging citizens to consider being vaccinated since vaccination is both a personal and national responsibility for the protection of personal health as well as the health of others.
“It is the duty of the GoZ to balance the need for increased vaccination so as to reach herd immunity with freedom of choice. The GoZ has taken a commendable policy position to allow free choice by individuals with regards to uptake of the COVID – 19 vaccines. It is therefore important for all stakeholders to avoid any coercive measures that directly or indirectly compel people to get vaccinated against their choice.”
It is important, ZHRC emphasised, to be guided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) guiding principles which posit that vaccination programmes must not be made compulsory but should be a matter of choice.
Meanwhile, ZHRC reiterated that it was concerned about the non-accessibility of the vaccines in some areas and urges that efforts be made to ensure that the vaccines are availed within close proximity to the general populace especially in the rural periphery.
“The proximity of healthcare facilities from communities remains a concern and the ZHRC proposes that the vaccine be brought closer to the marginalised communities to ensure that more people are vaccinated. Moreover, the healthcare personnel should ensure that the vaccine is accessed without protracted waiting periods at the vaccination centres so that the set targets can be realised.”
In view of the above, the ZHRC made some recommendations as it stressed that Government ought to continue providing free vaccines for the benefit of everyone in Zimbabwe.
The commission also recommended that government must provide a consistent supply of vaccines in all areas nationwide as well as intensify both media and non-media based programmes to raise awareness on the importance of vaccines and encourage the populace to freely take up COVID-19 vaccinations for the protection of their right to health and the health of others.
For service providers, and Private Institutions, ZHRC said they are urged to; adhere to safety measures and precautions to safeguard employees from contracting the COVID-19 virus through provision of adequatePersonal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and ensuring that they adhere to WHO guidelines on the prevention and containment measures such as constant sanitizing of hands, proper wearing of masks as well as observing social distancing.
Making recommendations, ZHRC said, “Corporates and shop owners should decongest places of work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst the workforce. Corporates and shop owners should ensure that there is no overcrowding at their business premises and should adequately and consistently control the numbers of customers or clients seeking goods and services.
Citizens, the Commission urged, are exhorted to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission by practising social distancing and adhering to the measures enforced by the government for containment of the virus.
“Citizens should observe the WHO protocols as well as embrace the free vaccination programme that is availed by the Government to protect all citizens, follow all official instructions and abide by national health and safety precautions and avoid peddling falsehoods about the COVID – 19 pandemic and the vaccination programmes and be guided by health professionals,” said ZHRC.
By Joyce Mukucha