Maputo — Mozambique's Deputy Health Minister, Lidia Cardoso, on Tuesday night received a million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, which arrived at Maputo International Airport on board an aircraft of Qatar Airways.
The doses are of the VeroCell vaccine produced by the Chinese pharmaceutical company, Sinopharm. They are part of the 11 million doses the government intends to acquire by the end of August.
Speaking at the reception ceremony, Cardoso said that, since March, Mozambique has already received 1,704,400 doses of vaccine, resulting from donations by countries such as China, India, Portugal, France and the United States. But the latest Sinopharm vaccines have not been donated - they have been purchased with the Mozambican government's own funds.
"In the coming days, we shall start to vaccinate a larger number of people, which will speed up the immunisation of more Mozambicans in a short space of time", she added.
According to Health Minister Armindo Tiago, speaking on Monday, to date only three per cent of the eligible population has been vaccinated, but he expected this figure to reach 20 per cent by the end of September.
Up to now, vaccination has been targeted at specific groups, such as health professionals, teachers, prison inmates and staff, diabetics and people suffering from other chronic illnesses. But the plan now is to vaccinate all people aged 50 and above in the urban areas.
Cardoso said the Chinese vaccines have arrived at a time when Mozambique is battling the third wave of the pandemic, with over a thousand new cases of the disease reported every day, and with hospitals in danger of running out of intensive care beds.
"This vaccine will reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death", said Cardoso. "It will thus reduce the pressure on the national health system, and contribute to a resumption of social normality".
The Ministry of Health has now abandoned the task of tracking all the contacts of every individual diagnosed with Covid-19. The huge number of new cases simply overwhelmed the tracking system.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, the Deputy National Director of Public Health, Benigna Matsinhe, said "it's becoming difficult to track the contacts of the cases that test positive, and so we are banking on counselling, so that the person who is Covid-19 positive is aware that he should communicate his situation to his contacts so that they can approach the health authorities for the subsequent steps".
"If we say that each person, in principle, can infect another six people, then you can imagine how many phone calls we would have to make just for the 1,500 positive cases reported today. It would be impossible. We don't have the technical or the financial capacity to do this", she said.
All those who have been in contact with anybody known to have tested positive for Covid-19, should voluntarily go into quarantine, Matsinhe stressed, and those who have symptoms should present themselves for testing to discover whether they are positive or not.
"Those who have no symptoms should continue to monitor their situation", she added. "If, after ten days, they still show no symptoms, they can come out of isolation".
Anyone who tests positive should inform their employers, Matsinhe said, so that the health protocol can be followed in their work place.
"Within institutions, if there are positive cases, the health sector should go to the place to continue the testing", she added. "So the individual should provide all the data - where he works, how many people he works with and so on".
Matsinhe claimed that the follow-up of people after they have received a positive result has had the desired effect. "Those who take the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test receive the result by phone, and if the result is positive, the Health Ministry regularly follows the state of the patient in home quarantine, until they have made a complete recovery".
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has begun to use rapid antigen tests in Tete province and Maputo city, for people who appear to show Covid-19 symptoms. According to the National Health Institute (INS), the purpose is to identify as many cases as possible, and break the chains of transmission.
Initially, the rapid tests will be administered in district health units, and then village health workers will take them into the communities.
"This test detects virus proteins, and it does not need a laboratory", said Sofia Viegas, the National Director of Public Health Laboratories in the INS. "This means that it is different from the PCR test, which needs a laboratory infrastructure, and highly trained staff".
"Right now, in addition to Tete province, this process has begun in some health units in two districts of Maputo city", said Viegas. "This week another two districts will be covered. Maputo province is training staff, and Gaza and Inhambane will also be covered".
"The main goal is not just to test", she explained. "The main goal is to identify positive cases so that they can be isolated. An isolated patient will not be able to transmit the virus to others, and so we shall break the transmission chains".
The rapid tests are reliable and accessible. "What we found in the pilot phase, in Tete, is that when the test is used only on individuals with symptoms the positivity rate is very similar to the positivity rate with the PCR tests. This allows us to have some confidence in the use of these tests".
"It's true that they're not the same as the PCR tests, but they have many advantages", she continued. "The rapid test gives a result is just 15 minutes, and at greatly reduced cost".
With mass testing, said Viegas, only those with signs of serious illness, or with such characteristic symptoms of Covid-19 as loss of the sense of smell or of taste, will also be submitted to a PCR test.