ZIMBABWE is pinning hopes on China’s ability to control the novel corona outbreak from rapidly spreading outside the country, as the country’s health system’s gaps come under scrutiny.
This comes at a time a situational report issued by the Ministry of Health and Child Care and World Health Organisation yesterday revealed Zimbabwe was monitoring 129 people who arrived into the country from China and other countries with confirmed 2019-nCOV (Corona virus) transmission between last Saturday and Tuesday.
Although the travellers had no symptoms suggestive of 2019-nCOV infection on arrival, the passengers were documented for daily monitoring by health workers to determine the development of any suggestive symptoms.
Zimbabwe is expected to refer specimens from all suspect cases to regional reference laboratory (NICD) in South Africa, according to the report.The report also revealed that Zimbabwe is still conducting an assessment of its readiness to collect and ship samples from suspect cases, suggesting that systems are not yet in place.
The ministry is also in the process of conducting budget assessments to ascertain how much is going to be needed to cover the monitoring processes and strengthen screening capacity and the response.
At the same time the Chinese embassy in Harare has steeped up efforts to stop the virus from spreading into Zimbabwe including appealing to its citizens travelling to Zimbabwe to quarintine themselves for at least two weeks and to report to the embassy as soon as they suspect any infection.
The embassy has also pleaded with Chinese nationals intending to travel to Zimbabwe from the main affected areas to delay traveling.China has been hit by an outbreak of pneumonia in recent days caused by a novel coronavirus with at least 170 people having died by yesterday and more than 7 711 cases have been recorded across the country.
The virus, which causes respiratory illnesses has also been confirmed in 17 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region as well as Europe and North American countries with all countries being urged to prepare for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV (corona virus) infection, and to share full data with WHO.
Three countries in Africa, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Kenya have reported the virus, all linked to students who travelled home from China. There have been questions on whether the continent could deal with such an outbreak seeing that Ethiopia sent blood samples to South Africa.
Zimbabwe’s capacity is particularly under focus because of the state of the health sector, which is characterised by a shortage of doctors, medical equipment and basic drugs.
“Our greatest hope is that China must contain it, but we are also being responsible,” Health minister Obadiah Moyo said this week.“There is also no direct travel from China to Zimbabwe. People will come if its Kenyan Airways via kenya or Ethiopian Airways via Ethiopia, and they will undergo screening there. So Zimbabwe will be a secondary screening.”
Moyo admitted that the country had limitations as a result of the operating environment. He however said the country was putting in place systems to control the spread of the virus into the country.
“Are we prepared to deal with it? Yes because we are already starting awareness. We do have limitations because of the current operating environment. We need our health facilities to be fully functional. So the answer would be yes and no,” he said.
Zimbabwe has set up scrrening facilities at the country’s major ports of entry, incluing Robert Mugabe International Airport, Joshua Nkomo Airport, Victorial Falls Airport as well well Beitbridge Border post.
At Robert Mugabe International Airport, people with high temperatures will be taken to a Psmas clinic close to the airport which will be used as a holding centre.
The containment will then be done at Wilkins Hospital.Harare City Council director of Health Prosper Chonzi said the council was mandated to handle all infections. He said the city’s health department would use the kits and prevention methods they had set out to use during the Ebola outbreak.
“As a city we are mandated to handle all infectious conditions. The isolation facilities are there at Wilkins and we will move patients to Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital (BRIDH),” Chonzi said.
“After they have been screened for temperature they will be monitored while they are at home. And when they start showing symptoms that is when they will be admitted. It is not going to be every health worker who is going to be working in the infection prevention and control. We will use the kits we were using for Ebola and use the same prevention methods.”
Bulawayo City Health Chairperson of the emergency preparedness and response team Khulamuzi Nyathi said apart from the systems they had activated, they were also in the processes of doing an analysis of the gaps they have in implementing an effective disease control.
“In terms of diagnosis we don’t have the capacity to do diagnosis and we are waiting for the ministry. We are also doing a situational analysis to see what gaps we have. And also looking at consumables on what we have in stock and what might have expired,” Nyathi said.
“We have reactivated emergency preparedness and response team. We are also revising and updating the response plan as information comes through. We have the surveillance team, disinfectant team and other teams to deal with cases.
“We have social awareness team that is putting together messages that we are going to be distributing. Since the Airport (Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport) is in Matabeleland North we are also working with the team there to improve the capacity to screen and isolate suspected cases. Furthermore we are working to have a dedicated ambulance to handle cases.”
The Chinese government through its embassy in Harare said it had activated systems to mitigate the spread of the virus to Zimbabwe. “Those who have returned to the most affected regions in China, such as Hubei, are advised to hold off coming back to Zimbabwe until the situation eases to reduce the risk of bringing the virus to Zimbabwe. The Embassy is stepping up efforts to gather information. Those who have returned to Zimbabwe from the worst hit areas in China are requested to undergo a self-quarantine of two weeks at home, not to go to public places, offices, or any gatherings,” the embassy said in a press release this week.
“If suspected symptoms appear, they are asked to immediately seek medical help and report to the Embassy. Should there be confirmed cases in Zimbabwe, China stands ready to work closely with the Zimbabwean government and provide all possible support to jointly treat the patients and contain and mitigate the situation. The Chinese medical team in Zimbabwe has put together a special task force for this purpose.”
The Chinese governmnet said it was committed to safeguarding the safety and health of the Chinese people and ensuring the safety of every foreign national in China, including the Zimbabweans, and address their legitimate concerns in a timely manner.
“The Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe is making an all-out effort to prevent the virus from spreading to Zimbabwe. We have informed Zimbabwean authorities in health, foreign affairs, airport, and other ports of entry of the latest developments of the epidemic and established an information-sharing mechanism with them. We have requested Chinese nationals coming to Zimbabwe to cooperate with the screening measures of the Zimbabwean authorities at the ports of entry and issued three consular notices to provide information updates and recommendations for epidemic prevention,” the Embassy said.
The Chinese government has also sealed off entire cities in Hubei, isolating some 50 million people in a vast quarantine it hopes will curb the spread of the disease. Long-distance buses and some public transport networks have also been shut down elsewhere in the country.