ZIMBABWE’S health facilities are woefully equipped and would be unable to adequately respond to a coronavirus outbreak, at a time neighbouring South Africa has confirmed its first case of a patient who tested positive to the deadly disease.
The authorities in Harare are now depending on donations after China and the United Kingdom pledged to provide equipment and other support.The UK government, through its Department for International Development (DfID), yesterday moved to avert a possible crisis in the country’s response to a coronavirus outbreak by supplying protective clothing and equipment worth £100 000 (US$128 229).
Despite the Zimbabwean government’s claims that the country is ready to deal with the coronavirus (now known internationally as Covid-19) that had by Wednesday midday infected 93 574 and killed 3 204 people worldwide, investigation of the situation on the ground told a different story.
Among the facilities which have been selected as quarantine centres for coronavirus is Wilkins Hospital in Harare, where protective clothing has not been adequate, while the anti-retroviral treatment which Health minister Obadiah Moyo previously said would be used to treat the disease is out of stock.
DfID donated supplies of personal protective equipment, computers, data services and television monitoring equipment to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Public Health Emergency Operations.
WHO then handed over the items to the Ministry of Health and Child Care.Before the donation yesterday, Wilkins Hospital had been relying on space suits, gloves, gumboots and N95 respirators acquired when the country was preparing to fight an ebola outbreak in 2014.
According to hospital sources, the health institution had run out of the protective clothing for health care workers. The hospital is also short-staffed, with health personnel working long hours.
Officials revealed that the government has not procured its own equipment, but has been waiting for assistance from the WHO.Government through the Ministry of Health has previously insisted the country is fully prepared to deal with coronavirus cases, but investigations by the Zimbabwe
Independent revealed that the country lacked the capacity to effectively deal with the disease should it hit home.The Independent established that the procedure for the handling of suspected cases is that when an infected person arrives at the airport, port health, a department at the point of entry, should notify the Harare City ambulance services about the case. The ambulance is manned by trained personnel who, on their way to the patient, inform the team at Wilkins about the case.
The team at Wilkins, comprising three nurses, one doctor, an environmental officer, one general hand and one nurse aid, then starts preparing to receive the patient and putting on the protective clothing which includes latex gloves, spacesuit, goggles, N95 respirators and gumboots.
“The clothing that has been used was stocked during the ebola outbreak and we have run out of spacesuits and other items. We had been promised, but not yet received anything. We are at critical levels and if we receive a serious case we will not be able to deal with that case,” a source at the hospital said.
“After attending to the patient, the clothing should be burnt, as you cannot wear it again in case it gets infected. Ideally, the clothing should be burnt close to the point of infection because transporting them might result in further infection.
“Another thing is our staffing levels are very low and people will get tired. We have seven teams that work six-hour shifts. Most people have left the country because the environment is not conducive. In treating the patient, we also try and limit access to the patient and visits to the patient will also depend on the type of medicine that is being administered to them.”
Wilkins Hospital has so far admitted three suspected cases that the authorities say have tested negative to coronavirus.This comes as neighbouring South Africa yesterday recorded its first confirmed case of Covid-19, with Health minister Moyo describing it as a warning sign.
“We should be able to be prepared for when Covid-19 comes to Zimbabwe. Yes, it is very frightening that it is around the corner. But I’m sure that the South African authorities would be very thorough and will be able to isolate and be able to pick up the contacts which the Covid-19 positive carrier came into contact with,” Moyo said at the handover of equipment and clothing at Wilkins Hospital yesterday. “Yes, we have to be prepared, all of us.”
Harare City Council Health Services director Dr Prosper Chonzi said although there was a delay in getting the stocks, the WHO had delivered some supplies. He said the material from the WHO was being distributed countrywide.
“We were supposed to have gotten the stuff last week and we have so far received some from WHO and some of the required things are currently being distributed to Bulawayo and Mutare. Adequacy will depend on the number of cases we get. Normally, we start sounding out for more before the stocks run out,” Chonzi said.
He said coronavirus teams would administer antibiotics and other support treatments as the experimental anti-retroviral treatment has not yet been clearly prescribed and is still being researched on.
“In terms of treatment, the kind of treatment we are administering is mostly supportive treatment, where we give antibiotics and where a person is struggling to breathe, we provide oxygen and for dehydration we administer IV (intravenous) fluid and we have that in stock. If we get a case, we are able to isolate and treat,” Chonzi said.
“In terms of staff, we have always been having issues around that. Some of the trained personnel are leaving for greener pastures and at the end of the day we will have people working long hours. The staffing issue does not only apply to nurses but also to doctors and to environmental officers.”
The Chinese embassy also pledged to refurbish Wilkins Hospital to make it comfortable for patients.