Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
ABOUT four million children were vaccinated against typhoid in Zimbabwe this year, a success which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says will go a long way in curbing the outbreak of the deadly water borne diseases.
In May this year, the Ministry of Health and Child Care embarked on a 10-day multi-antigen vaccination drive aimed at children aged between nine months and 15 years.
The campaign, the first of its kind in Africa was supported by WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
During the initial 10-day vaccination drive, more than four million children received their typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV).
The campaign has since been extended in a bid to reach a final target of just under six million children.
The vaccine has also been successfully added to Zimbabwe’s routine immunisation schedule.
Zimbabwe has experienced large outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant strains of both cholera and typhoid.
Antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon that happens when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. The germs change over time, no longer responding to medicines thus making infections harder, and sometimes impossible to treat.
Typhoid fever is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can spread throughout the body, affecting many organs.
Without prompt treatment, it can cause serious complications and can be fatal.
A large typhoid outbreak (with more than 3000 suspected cases) between October 2017 and February 2018 was caused by an antibiotic-resistant strain.
This meant that the first-line antibiotic of choice to treat typhoid (ciprofloxacin) was no longer effective – the bacteria had become resistant to the available antibiotic.
Recently, Zimbabwe had a number of typhoid outbreaks, with cities like Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru often becoming epicentres due to shortage of clean water supplies and compromised sanitary facilities.
WHO representative to Zimbabwe Dr Alex Gasasira said the success of the emergency vaccination campaigns as an outbreak control strategy was instrumental in getting TCV included in the routine national vaccination schedule.
“The typhoid conjugate vaccine is a significant step towards addressing the high rates of typhoid in children in Zimbabwe, and the Zimbabwean government deserves credit for successfully incorporating it into its routine immunisation programme,” said Dr Gasasira.
“We are proud to be able to support them in their efforts. However, this story also points to the urgent need to increase investment in strengthening WASH infrastructure at community and healthcare facility level. This would be a more sustainable solution to preventing outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
“In addition, this story illustrates the cross-cutting nature of addressing antimicrobial resistance – in this particular case, the need for strengthened WASH and strengthened routine immunisation.”
Mr Tapfumanei Mashe the national antimicrobial resistance (AMR) coordinator said the Health Ministry is set to conduct a study to assess the impact of the TCV.
“To build more evidence on the impact of vaccines on antimicrobial resistance, the Ministry of Health and Child Care will conduct a two-year cross sectional study to assess the trends in antibiotic consumption prescribed for typhoid cases before and after incorporation of TCV into the routine immunisation programme and perform genomic sequencing to characterise circulating strains before and after mass immunisation using the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) and Fleming Fund support,” said Mr [email protected]