SCORES of Zimbabweans travelling to Tanzania and Zambia are purchasing fake yellow fever certificates instead of administering the yellow fever vaccine, exposing the country to the deadly yellow fever epidemic, investigations have revealed.
Tanzanian and Zambian authorities require that all visitors must be vaccinated against yellow fever and be able to produce a valid yellow fever certificate together with their passport at all points of entry and exit.
This is to prevent the international spread of the disease by protecting countries from the risk of importing or spreading the yellow fever virus. It is also to protect individual travellers who may be exposed to yellow fever infection.
Yellow fever is a tropical viral disease affecting the liver and kidneys, causing fever and jaundice and is often fatal. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and is incurable.
Tanzania has seen an upsurge in Zimbabweans travelling to the port of Dar es Salaam to collect cars imported from Japan.
Vendors at the Lusaka Bus Intercity Station were openly selling yellow fever vaccination certificates to Zimbabweans who had disembarked from the bus for recess. The travellers, who were interviewed by the paper, said the yellow fever vaccine cost was high in the country forcing them to purchase the fake certificate for $5.
City pharmaceutical companies surveyed by the news crew were selling the vaccine shot for an average of $60 while city doctors charged about $10 to administer the vaccine.
Mr Peter Nkomo, who was en route to Dar es Salaam to collect a car shipped from Japan, said he chose to buy the fake yellow fever certificate instead of getting vaccinated to cut his expenses.
"The yellow fever vaccine is unaffordable back home, maybe if the Government subsidises it then we will buy the required vaccine but now we are improvising by buying the yellow fever certificates so that we can enter Tanzania otherwise if we do not the Tanzanian authorities will turn us away. Bus costs $100, which adds to $150 if you include other expenses that you encounter along the journey as the trip to Dar es Salaam takes two days. If you factor in the vaccine the travelling costs can easily sky rocket to $250," he said.
Mpilo Hospital clinical director Dr Wedu Ndebele said yellow fever was a lethal viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes and those that purchase yellow fever certificates fraudulently put their lives and the country at large at risk.
"If you purchase the yellow fever certificate through fraudulent means, you are endangering your health because in actuality your body system is not protected from the infection. Furthermore, once an infected person returns to the country with the infection the whole country is susceptible to infection because once a mosquito bites an infected person, and moves to another person, it will transmit the virus," Dr Ndebele said.
He added that like all viral diseases, yellow fever was incurable. Additionally, he encouraged all travellers to yellow fever-prone areas to administer the vaccine.
Another city doctor Amos Ndiweni said while Zimbabwe did not require one to produce the yellow fever certificate while returning from Zambia or Tanzania the possibility of being infected was still high.
"If you look at the Zimbabwe immigration rules they do not require Zambians and Tanzanians to produce a yellow fever vaccine certificate because WHO has determined that Tanzania is a low-risk area, so for one to catch yellow fever he has to be exposed and bitten by a lot of mosquitoes," said Dr Ndiweni.
He said if anyone in Zimbabwe were to be infected with yellow fever, the effects would be fatal for the whole country as we still have mosquitoes that have a potential of transferring the infection throughout the country.
"Yellow fever is incurable and those going to Tanzania should be inoculated, to protect the country against the potential scourge of yellow fever no matter how much the infection risks are said to be low," he said.
South Africa also requires all travellers journeying from yellow fever risk countries to show proof of yellow fever vaccination by means of a valid yellow fever certificate.
This also applies to those who have travelled to low-risk countries such as Somalia, Tanzania and Zambia or have transited through a yellow fever risk country.
The certificates, which are valid for 10 years, must be approved by the World Health Organisation, and should be administered at a yellow fever approved vaccination centre at least 10 days before departure to South Africa, as the vaccine only offers protection 10 days after administration.
Failure to produce a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate at a South African port of entry could lead to refusal of entry, or quarantine until the traveller’s certificate becomes valid.
According to Centre for Disease Control and Prevention yellow fever virus has three transmission cycles: jungle (sylvatic), intermediate (savannah), and urban. The jungle (sylvatic) cycle involves transmission of the virus between non-human primates (monkeys) and mosquito species found in the forest canopy.
The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes from monkeys to humans when humans are visiting or working in the jungle. In Africa, an intermediate (savannah) cycle exists that involves transmission of the virus from mosquitoes to humans living or working in jungle border areas.
In this cycle, the virus can be transmitted from monkey to human or from human to human via mosquitoes. The urban cycle involves transmission of the virus between humans and urban mosquitoes. The virus is usually brought to the urban setting by a viremic human who was infected in the jungle or savannah.
About 200 000 cases of yellow fever occur annually, 90 percent of them in Africa. A dramatic resurgence of yellow fever has occurred since the 1980s in both sub-Saharan Africa and South America.