BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE/HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
ZIMBABWE faces the grim prospect of failing to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) after it emerged yesterday that the country’s health professionals were yet to receive the requisite training and protective clothing to handle the pandemic which has so far globally recorded 13 671 deaths and 318 228 confirmed cases.
To date, the country has officially recorded two cases with the third undergoing further tests, according to the Health and Child Care ministry.
Local nurses’ union, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) yesterday gave government a 24-hour ultimatum to train its members and provide protective clothing, failing which they would down tools for their own safety.
Zina president Enock Dongo told NewsDay that since COVID-19 was a new disease, there was urgent need for government to provide specialised training and equipment to avoid exposure of its members to infection.
“Our concerns are genuine, the COVID-19 is a new disease and the current nurses have never learned about it. Our government is very slow in responding; the nurses have no information on the virus except reading the guidelines on social media and newspapers. We are giving the government 24 hours to address our concerns or else we will withdraw our services because we cannot put our members at risk.
This is a deadly disease that needs protective
measures more than anything else,” Dongo said.
“When people fall sick, they come to the hospital and they expect us to help them, but as of now, we do not know how to handle the affected person. The pandemic has claimed thousands of lives and we are exposed on a daily basis since we do not have any protective clothing to handle the COVID-19 patients.”
He added: “If nurses attend to a COVID-19 patient without protective clothing, they can be affected by the virus and after getting the virus they board a Zupco bus where they will infect other passengers and the disease spreads. So we are saying give us protective clothing before it’s too late,”Dongo said.
Zimbabwe’s development partners among them, the People’s Republic of China and United Kingdom last week gave US$26,388 million, while President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government contributed ZWL$20 million towards upgrading of key infrastructure including hospitals, clinics and isolation centres.
The funds are supposed to go towards logistics, procurement, planning, monitoring, risk communication, community engagement, surveillance, rapid response, case investigation including at points of entry, national laboratory system, infection prevention, control and case management, among others.
Dongo said despite putting aside a war chest, nothing on the ground shows the nation is prepared to take on the virus.
Health secretary Agnes Mahomva confirmed that health professionals were yet to be trained or provided with protective clothing.
“Yes, we are aware of the problems they are facing, but as a government, we are working on that since COVID-19 is a priority at the moment,” Mahomva said.
In Italy, latest figures show that healthcare workers make up 9% of the country’s COVID-19 cases.
Italy, the current global epicentre of the pandemic, yesterday had recorded 53 500 cases and over 4 800 deaths.
Health experts in Zimbabwe have been urging government to impose strict travel restrictions, especially from high-risk countries to minimise the spread given the country’s decayed public health system.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said he was worried that Zimbabwe continues to receive visitors from high-risk areas.
“COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout the world. We are worried by the seemingly lackadaisical nature at which the government is dealing with the virus and yet other countries with well-functioning health systems have announced total lockdown to combat the spread of the disease. We are concerned that Zimbabwe continues to welcome visitors from high-risk countries as if things are normal. Why should Zimbabwe wait until there is a complete crisis to take drastic travel measures?” Rusike asked.
Zimbabwe Association for Human Rights Doctors secretary Norman Matara said: “We need to implement travel restrictions just like what other serious governments are doing. We have a weak health system which will not be able to respond to a full-blown outbreak of this virus. Our best and cheaper option is preventing an outbreak in the country.”
In a related matter, Bulawayo City Council’s acting health services director Charles Malaba has advised residents to immediately bury bodies of people who would have succumbed to coronavirus to avoid cross-contamination.
“When it comes to disposal of bodies, we deal with the body just like any other infectious diseases where the burial should be done immediately and all the other rituals that are done like body viewing and taking the body home will not happen,” Malaba said.
“We take the corpse to the cemetery and there is supervised burial from our environmental health practitioners and at the cemetery we do not have designated places for that. We will bury the bodies at cemeteries where we bury all other people. What we do is we disinfect the grave using chloride and then we make sure the burial is supervised all out.”
In Masvingo, most rural district councils (RDCs) have suspended mobile open markets where traders travel around the province selling their wares to thousands of villagers. The open markets, popularly known as Bacossi, which are held once every month throughout the province attract thousands of villagers.
Zaka Rural District Council was among the first to issue a ban on open markets following Mnangagwa’s decree last week banning all gatherings with more than 100 people after declaring the scourge a national disaster.
Zaka RDC chief executive officer David Majaura issued a circular banning all mobile open markets in the district. Bikita, Mwenezi and Chivi RDCs later followed suit.
However, both Chiredzi rural and urban seem to be lagging behind as the open markets were held this weekend.
Acting Chiredzi RDC chief executive Mikia Majatame said they had a technical service meeting with councillors where they agreed to disseminate the message on preventative measures.
In Chiredzi urban, all-night church gatherings were still being held, while Chigarapasi which is probably the biggest council bar in the province, was still being frequented by hundreds of patrons.
In Harare, it was business as usual in the city centre, Magaba, Mupedzanhamo and Mbare Musika where most informal traders ply their trade. A trader at Mbare Musika, who preferred anonymity, said some customers wore masks and traders avoided unnecessary contact with customers and each other.
Hatcliffe and Domboshava’s Showground markets were on Saturday packed with traders and customers who were oblivious of the imminent threat.
— Additional reporting by Praisemore Sithole/ Garikai