Yellow fever blow to tourism
The South African requirement that travellers from Zambia should have valid yellow fever inoculation certificates has unsettled Zambia and dampened its tourism drive.
Even so the Ministry of Health issued the first public notice and urged travellers to or through South Africa to be vaccinated 10 days before departure.
Though it had not been a requirement for years, the ministry swiftly restocked on the vaccine and immediately designated 34 centres around the country to administer the inoculations.
It warned against obtaining vaccinations from unauthorised centres and stressed that non-designated institutions that administered the vaccine risked prosecution.
Demand for the shots has continued to rise and there are efforts to ensure sufficient stocks of the vaccine, which ran out in some centres in the initial rush.
The medical authorities have taken the requirement in their stride and because of its preventive nature, seem to view it positively.
But it has dampened Zambia’s tourism like no other requirement ahead of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly which Zambia and Zimbabwe will co-host next year in Livingstone and Victoria Falls town, respectively.
Zambia had planned to improve its tourism visibility and sell itself as a worthy destination through the conference.
The country has increased spending on tourism infrastructure in recent years.
But there are fears that this will come to little with the country acquiring a reputation for yellow fever.
Authorities see the yellow fever vaccination as an unnecessary new barrier. And of even greater concern is that it has created the false impression that the disease is endemic in Zambia when it is in fact not.
Many Zambian travellers have also been upset by the way it has been administered.
A Zambian resident in Australia en route to Zambia found that South African Airways had issued instructions that he should not board the aircraft without a yellow fever certificate even though he was resident in a non-yellow fever zone.
It took time and some missed flights to sort out the matter and he was angry, accusing the Zambian government of not standing up for its citizens.
Foreign Affairs and Tourism Minister Given Lubinda said the requirement had negatively affected tourism as visitors were increasingly opting for less stressful destinations.
He raised the issue at the 48th conference of the Regional Tourism Organisation in Southern Africa (RETOSA) held in Mauritius at the end of last month.
He went into the conference with a public pledge to raise the matter with other tourism ministers, especially as Zambia itself was not classified a yellow fever country by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Only some of its neighbours are in the danger zone.
Health Minister Joseph Kasonde subsequently took up the issue. Speaking in Livingstone, he said that yellow fever was non-existent in Zambia and visitors had no reason to worry about contracting it.
No case had been reported and even the WHO agreed that Zambia was not on the list of countries in the danger zone.
He said the South African requirement was based on fears that Zambia could have traces of the disease based on the WHO yellow fever classification of 2010, which reclassified the country from zero risk to low risk because of its proximity to Angola where the disease was present.
“It’s a total misunderstanding. If you come to Zambia and you have no yellow fever, you won’t get it because there is no yellow fever here,” said Kasonde.
But in fact even the country’s new classification does not make yellow fever inoculation mandatory for travellers out of Zambia.
Under international travel regulations it only means that it is up to other countries to decide whether or not to require travellers to have yellow fever certificates.
That seems to be the gist of what is being discussed at the diplomatic level between the two countries.
There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity around the issue and the South African high commissioner in Zambia, Moses Chikane, has recently been reported by the local media to have indicated that South Africa would consider removing Zambia from the list.
He said that the problem was that Zambia was surrounded by countries that had the disease and sometimes people from those countries transited through Zambia.
“However we must find ways of resolving this and get Zambia off the list,” he said./TIMES