Maputo — The first batch of vaccines against the Covid-19 respiratory disease could arrive in Mozambique in February or March, Health Minister Armindo Tiago announced on Monday.
This brings the vaccination schedule forward by several months - late last year, Tiago warned that the first vaccines, arranged through the Covax facility set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO), would probably not reach Mozambique until late June or early July.
But the dramatic acceleration in the Mozambican Covid-19 epidemic, and the large number of health workers infected, have forced a rethink.
Speaking at a meeting in Maputo with the professional associations of doctors, nurses and other health professionals, Tiago said the government will receive at least 70,000 doses of vaccine in February or March.
70,000 is the total number of people working in the Mozambican health service. Tiago said health professionals are the first priority group for vaccination. "This group consists of about 70,000 people. So the first consignment must contain at least 70,000 doses of vaccine", he said.
Vaccines from the Covax initiative were not expected until May or June. Tiago stressed that the government thought it right "to guarantee the vaccine earlier" for priority groups. He did not where the initial 70,000 doses will come from, or how the government will pay for them.
Tiago insisted that vaccination must not be regarded as a miracle solution, but as a complement to the preventive measures against Covid-19, which remain in place.
He assured the health professionals that "the Ministry of Health has enough individual protective equipment for all the health staff". But he admitted that the equipment may not be in the right place at the right time.
"What may be happening is probably a problem of management in the health units", said Tiago. "But we are able to supply all the necessary equipment to meet all requests".
During the meeting, the Ministry signed cooperation agreements with the associations. The chairperson of the Medical Association of Mozambique, Milton Tatia, who was the spokesperson for the meeting, said it had been decided to step up communication by holding weekly meetings.
It was also agreed that complete individual protective equipment, previously distributed to the centres where Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, will now be made available to all health units dealing with the pandemic.
"The distribution of the equipment will be monitored by the two parties (the Health Ministry and the professional associations)", said Tatia.
It was also agreed that health workers over 55 years old will be dispensed from face-to-face clinical activities. The government promised to hire additional health workers, both Mozambican and foreign, to improve the efficiency of the Covid-19 wards.
This is already under way, as shown by the arrival on Monday of 14 Cuban doctors and nurses, all specialists in intensive care. The Cubans will all be allocated to the most critical Covid-19 wards, which are all in Maputo city. A further 31 Cubans will arrive in early February.
"In addition to hiring more health professionals, the Ministry will reallocate the existing human resources so as to guarantee continuity of essential services in the health units", said Tatia.
Hospital capacity is being increased, notably by modifying the Mavalane General Hospital in Maputo so that it can accommodate 320 beds intended for Covid-19 patients.