By Nhau Mangirazi
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) conducted a week-long campaign to vaccinate cross border traders plying their trade through transit points linking Zimbabwe with its northern and southern neighbours.
Under the theme: Supporting Informal Cross Border Traders in Southern Africa to do Business Safely during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the programme was also intended to raise knowledge and awareness of issues around the pandemic.
It started on 30 August and ended on 4 September. A key outcome was empowering communities mainly those in the informal sector, among them vendors who travel and sell across the borders.
IOM mobile vaccination teams were deployed to provide Covid-19 vaccination services right where the traders operated, after noting that most of them work continuously with hardly any break or time off, which limits their chances to visit static vaccination centers at nearby medical facilities in each border town.
In Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province, the programme – dubbed the Border Markets Risk Communication and Community Engagement Campaign – targeted the Hurungwe District areas of Nyamakate, Elephant’s Walk along the Harare-Chirundu highway, flea markets in Karoi town as well as Magunje, where the traders do a roaring business.
The border town of Chirundu, which separates Zambia from Zimbabwe, attracts large numbers of traders, buyers and ordinary citizens from both countries as there is a wide range of goods at highly competitive prices, sourced mainly from or through Zambia. On the Zimbabwe side, Chirundu falls under Hurungwe District.
Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti of the IOM’s media and communication unit, confirmed that the project had been necessitated by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which had impacted negatively on world trade, including in Southern Africa.
‘‘The outbreak of Covid-19 in Southern Africa has led to border closures and travel restrictions throughout the region,” she said.
“Where cross-border trade is permitted, it has been for larger commercial flows and not for the movement of people, accompanied by quarantine measures for varying periods, often at the cost of the traveler.”
Nyamande-Pangeti noted that there was a significant rise in demand for cheap goods, which resulted in overcrowding within most of the markets where the goods were sold. This made it difficult for people to observe basic Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures.
‘‘Communication is essential in providing information to the public that will equip them with stronger coping mechanisms for Covid-19. Risk communication is effective as it is real-time exchange of information and advice amongst authorities and experts, and communities that are at risk. Accurate information provided early and often in the language and channels that people use, engenders trust that enables communities to understand the health risks they face and take the action required to protect themselves and others,’’ she said.
Hurungwe district medical officer, Doctor Munyaradzi Chidaushe, agreed that the campaign on Covid-19 vaccination among cross border traders and vendors was a worthy cause.
‘‘As Ministry of Health, we are happy that IOM is supporting the vaccination roll out reaching out vendors. It is a positive move for our communities as we must not leave anyone behind. This is a worthy cause. In Hurungwe District Covid-19 infection cases went down through partnerships with other stakeholders and the community at large. We are grateful, as it will have a positive impact for the nation as a whole,” Dr Chidaushe said.
Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) territory president for Karoi, Florence Chakabvapasi, welcomed the gesture by IOM and the health ministry.
‘‘The majority of informal traders are women and the Covid-19 lockdowns affected our income generating projects. Furthermore, lack of information among our members had seen some failing to be vaccinated. IOM’s mitigation approach will go a long way in empowering us with correct information even after vaccination as we still need to trade as we meet many people daily. This is a noble and welcome move for all informal traders,’’ said Chakabvapasi.
ZCIEA, a national membership-driven organisation, is a trade union made up of self employed and informal, undeclared employees and workers.
IOM’s Nyamande-Pangeti said the closure of the borders had seen a larger part of local and inland buyers relying on the border markets for supply of a range of commodities.
‘‘Since inception, a number of activities has been done within the target BCPs which include provision of PPEs, capacity building trainings and associations building among others.
This put ICBTs, their customers and the wider local community at risk of infection, further resulting in the marketplaces being potential Covid-19 super spreaders,’’ she said.
Funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the United Kingdom, the project is being managed by the IOM office in Zambia, and implemented in conjunction with IOM missions in Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe the project is targeting Beitbridge and Chirundu border crossing points (BCPs) where IOM is working closely with the local authorities, informal cross border traders’ associations and other frontline departments.