HEALTH experts have raised concern over the Zimbabwe’s lackadaisical approach towards coronavirus screening and detection, amid discord in the President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government on information regarding the deadly virus.
Confirmed cases of the coronavirus this week surpassed the 200 000 mark worldwide, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) urging countries to scale up testing of the virus.
Zimbabwe has been using the WHO case definition of a suspect case guidelines, possibly missing potential cases. This comes as a tourist who initially showed symptoms of the disease while in the country but was not tested because she did not meet the “case definition”, tested positive upon arrival in the United Kingdom.
Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights (ZDHR) said the guidelines had limited the number of people that were being tested.“The majority of people with Covid-19 are a symptomatic and will not meet this case definition. So there is a probability that we might be missing potential cases. Yesterday (Tuesday) WHO urged countries to increase testing more people and do contact tracing. So we urge government to test more people. However we have limited resources to test a lot of people. We have very few test kits donated by WHO, about 200 according to sources, so that’s a limiting factor,” ZDHR secretary general Norman Matara said.
He also pointed out the lack of protective clothing for the health personnel, which has made them reluctant to respond to possible cases.“We do not have adequate personal protective equipment for health workers especially in the provinces and districts. Health workers are not confident of their safety and are sceptical to respond to a suspected case,” he said.
“We also need management protocols to be taught to all the hospitals in Zimbabwe. From data from countries with high cases of Covid-19 we have learnt that about 20% of cases will require ICU admission. In Zimbabwe we have only four functional ICU beds in Harare. The identified isolation centres do not have ICU capability
“We also think that the government should put travel restrictions especially for countries with high prevalence of Covid-19. We also need a proper communication channel to dispel myths and misconceptions and also give the public information on Covid-19. We need a website and a hotline for people to access correct information. Overall we think the government is partly prepared to deal with an outbreak. These gaps need to be addressed for us to have confidence in the response mechanism.”
In his state of the nation address on Tuesday, Mnangagwa only discouraged travel to Zimbabwe by people from Covid-19 hit areas, banning gatherings of more than 100 people in the country.
He also said his government was in the process of identifying facilities that could work as isolation centres for the disease.“Kits and other accessories for screening, handling, testing and treatment continue to be availed. More isolation and treatment centres are being identified, designated and equipped appropriately,” Mnangagwa said.
Zimbabwe currently has 55 beds in the country’s main isolation centres at Wilkins Hospital in Harare and Thorngrove Hospital in Bulawayo.
Executive Director, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) Itai Rusike described the country’s public health sector as very weak, poorly funded and poorly equipped to deal with a coronavirus outbreak given the low staff morale, perennial drug shortages, antiquated and obsolete equipment.
“The government needs to immediately implement strict measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) including imposing travel restrictions on foreign nationals from the high risk countries.
We were expecting President Emerson Mnangagwa to announce a total lockdown to combat the spread of the disease, such as closure of schools due to the overcrowding nature in public schools,” Rusike said.
“Yes, we do welcome the banning of the public gatherings by the government but if we don’t address the issue of overcrowding in public transportation especially the subsidized Zupco buses, availability of uninterrupted portable water supply for people to regularly wash their hands, protective gear for the health workers, test kits in our health institutions, availability of drugs and ambulance services then the president’s measures will be a futile attempt.”
He said government should recognise the importance of community participation is vital in dealing with Covid-19 pandemic.
“Openness in sharing the information on Covid-19 will allay fear, panic, stigma, discrimination and proliferation of false information that is happening as a result of lack of knowledge, information and awareness programmes on the causes, prevention, signs and symptoms of the Covid-19 disease. The general public just do not have adequate information on the disease hence their overreliance on social media and other unreliable sources of information,” Rusike said.
“This is a new disease and most of our health workers lacks confidence and are equally scared of COVID-19 and are also in need of capacity building and further training.”
Ministries in Mnangagwa’s government have been giving out contrasting information on the disease.Health minister Obadiah Moyo and Tourism minister Mangaliso Ndlovu this week gave contrasting information about the UK tourist who visited Victoria Falls this month. Moyo saying the tourist had tested positive for coronavirus days after leaving Zimbabwe, while Ndlovu said she had not.
Last month the ministries Health and Information clashed over a Thai traveller who at the time was suspected of having the coronavirus. The Information ministry revealed the person had met the WHO case definition while the Health ministry said the traveller had not been tested because of failure to meet the case definition.