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‘Running dry’: Zimbabweans turned away for vaccinations after shortages | Global development

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Hundreds of people are being turned away from vaccination centres in Zimbabwe as the country’s supplies of China’s Sinovac vaccine appear to have run out, triggering panic that the government is failing to acquire new stocks.

While the government said that it had taken delivery of more medicines in recent weeks, centres in Harare have not had any stocks for nearly a week and there is growing anger at the failure to communicate acute vaccine shortages, which are being reported around the country.

In Bulawayo, authorities last week suspended vaccination programmes due to a lack of vaccines.

At Wilkins hospital in the capital, Harare, people demanded an explanation from the matron after nurses turned away dozens of people who had arrived for their second dose of Sinovac.

The hospital, Harare’s leading Covid-19 referral centre, is now administering only India’s Covaxin jab, the uptake of which remains low among Zimbabweans.

“We only have Covaxin for the second jab. We do not have the Sinovac second dose. If you are waiting for the Sinovac second dose, check towards the end of the week. We are still waiting for deliveries. They delivered Covaxin yesterday, we hope the Sinovac will come soon,” the matron said, to jeers from the crowd.

According to the government, as of 31 May, 675,678 people in Zimbabwe had received their first dose of the Covid vaccine, while 344,400 had received their second.

With a population of 14.6 million, Zimbabwe aims to vaccinate 10 million people. It received 1.5m doses from China, while India donated 35,000 shots of Covaxin.

Many at Wilkins hospital this week were afraid their first dose would lose effectiveness without the second.

The chief coordinator of Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 response, Agnes Mahomva, said: “We have heard such stories of shortages but we asked the Ministry of Health to do an assessment on the ground. All clinics got quantities that are proportional to their size but some moved vaccines faster than others. So the Ministry of Health is currently doing the redistribution of vaccines. Any minute from now we should hear from them.”

Previously a bustling centre vaccinating hundreds of people daily, Wilkins now operates one inoculation table where Covaxin is being administered.

“We only had the second dose sometime last week. We spend most of the time sitting, there is nothing to do. If you see such large centres running dry, it is almost certain that [smaller] polyclinics also do not have any vaccines,” a nurse said.

Mernard Makotore, 50, travelled about 40 miles from Darwendale, a town west of Harare, to get his second vaccine.

“I came here very early only to be told at 8am that there are no vaccines. I was supposed to have come on 20 May, but my mother passed away so I could not get the vaccine. We are getting into the cold season and cases are starting to rise again. The government needs to do something fast,” Makotore said.

“Why did they give us the first dose, if they knew that the second dose would not be available,” he added.

Claudina Maneni, 43, had come with her 70-year-old mother.

“I have been coming here for the past five days and they are telling me the same story. I came here again at 4am with my elderly mother, she desperately needs her second dose because of travel. The minister of finance assured us that he was going to buy more vaccines but there is nothing,” Maneni said.

“We hear that vaccines are now being sold in private practices. This is the corruption that we do not want. Zimbabweans should never tolerate such incompetence.”

Despite initial scepticism about the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, Zimbabweans have been commended by their president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, for overcoming their hesitancy in the past month. He also gave assurances that more vaccines were on their way.

Experts say the government should speed up vaccination as winter may bring more cases, with fears that a third wave could bring the already precarious economy to its knees.

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Texas Deputy AG Apologizes for Slamming Simone Biles as ‘National Embarrassment’

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US gymnast Simone Biles received immense support from Americans this week after announcing she would not be competing in the Team USA final, nor the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final, due to personal mental health concerns. At the same time, the 24-year-old has received backlash from many individuals who viewed her pull-out as weak.

Aaron Reitz, deputy attorney general for Texas, took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to issue an apology to Biles, and recant a statement in which he panned the record-setting US gymnast as a “national embarrassment.” 

“In a moment of frustration and disappointment, I opined on subjects for which I am not adequately versed. That was an error. I can’t imagine what Simone Biles has gone through,” Reitz claimed. “Simone Biles is a true patriot and one of the greatest gymnasts of our time.”

“I apologize to her, and wish her well,” the deputy AG concluded, emphasizing that his “personal social media comments” do not represent the views of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nor the Office of the Attorney General. 

Reitz’s since-deleted tweet against Biles, who was born in Texas and still resides in the Lone Star State, quoted another post that applauded the 1996 Olympic performance of Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug. Strug, one of the US’ “Magnificent Seven,” severely injured her ankle during the first half of the vault competition, but refused to bow out of the event and ultimately led her team to win the US’ first gold medal in women’s gymnastics. 

“Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles,” Reitz said in his quote tweet. 

The deputy AG’s attempt at using Strug’s story to chastise Biles fell flat, as the two-time Olympian threw her support behind the 24-year-old on Tuesday. 

Furthermore, it is worth noting that Biles is no stranger to performing with adversity. When the US Women’s Gymnastics team took home gold at the 2018 World Championships in Qatar, Biles dominated in nearly every competition, despite intense stomach pains from what was later confirmed to be a kidney stone. 

Despite her pull-outs this year, Biles has continued to root for her fellow Team USA gymnasts. She also expressed in a Wednesday social media post that “the outpouring [of] love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”



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Aid cuts make a mockery of UK pledges on girls’ education | Zoe Williams

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With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.

The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.

There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.

The issue has never been more important than during this pandemic, which in many countries is hitting a peak having already affected girls disproportionately.

These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.

Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.

The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”

This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.

Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.

Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.

“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”

Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.

There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.

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[Ticker] US backs WHO plan for further Covid-origin investigation

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.

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