ZIMBABWE’s largest referral centre for COVID-19 cases, Wilkins Hospital in Harare, was shut down yesterday to “allow for further renovations”, but medical staff at the health institution said the closure was triggered by doctors who downed tools to press for the provision of protective clothing.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE/PATRICIA SIBANDA/MOSES MATENGA
“We have made a resolution that we will not go to work without protective clothing, putting our lives at risk,” a medical staffer who spoke to NewsDay on condition of anonymity said.
But city health services director Prosper Chonzi said the facility had temporarily shut down to allow for further renovations to ensure it met international standards.
“The Chinese are still working on the renovations and so we have moved to Nazareth (Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital). Wilkins is still being renovated and will remain shut until the process is complete,” he said.
Chonzi added that screening of patients for the coronavirus was still being done at Wilkins Hospital, but nurses at the medical centre refuted the claim, saying all staff had deserted the centre.
This came amid reports that all protective clothing used at the hospital was supplied by Harare City Council, while the Chinese embassy was bankrolling the renovations as government was yet to deposit the promised $100 000 into the local authority’s account to upgrade the hospital.
The health centre came under the spotlight early this week after the family of journalist Zororo Makamba, who succumbed to coronavirus, on Monday described it as a death trap.
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Chonzi said the third confirmed case, a 57-year-old man who, according to the Health ministry had travelled to Dubai and came back on March 15, had been transferred to Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital.
But in its post-Cabinet briefing on Tuesday, government said the third confirmed case was that of a person who was in contact with the late journalist Zororo Makamba.
It did not mention the 57-year-old who had travelled to Dubai.
Senior doctors and nurses at most public health institutions yesterday vowed that they would not report for duty without appropriate clothing and equipment.
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (Zhda) president Tawanda Zvakada said the move was meant to force government to provide them with protective wear to attend to suspected coronavirus cases without endangering themselves. Many doctors internationally have died of coronavirus while in the line of duty, including 4 800 health workers who were infected by COVID-19 in Italy.
Zvakada alleged that some private hospitals were being fully equipped at the expense of public institutions and called for all hospitals to be treated equally for them to fight the pandemic.
“We are just basically saying we are not on strike, but it is a call for action to tell the government that we need to be protected first before we can attend to suspected COVID-19 cases, the pandemic which has caused havoc worldwide,” he said.
“When the protective clothing has been availed to us all, that is when we are able to say we are now ready. There is a difference between heroism and suicide and we need to be protected. Going in there without any protection will be like committing suicide. So temporarily, we have withdrawn our services.”
Health permanent secretary Agnes Mahomva said it was the ministry’s priority at the moment to provide protective gear at all institutions.
In Bulawayo, Mpilo Central Hospital was yesterday operating with student nurses and doctors with no protective clothing.
Mpilo spokesperson Osiers Ndlovu confirmed the situation yesterday, saying they feared risking student nurses and doctors lives since there was no protective clothing for them.
“Currently, I do not have the figures, but most of the doctors and nurses as from Wednesday have not reported for duty. Their issues were not addressed, so they decided to withdraw their labour. As we are speaking, student nurses are the ones who are manning the institution and a few other qualified nurses who did not join in the withdrawal of labour,” Ndlovu said.
Mpilo chief executive officer Leonard Mabhandi said the hospital was yet to receive medical kits from the ministry, but was expecting to get them soon.
Government this week received a consignment of protective wear and testing kits from Chinese businessman, Jack Ma.
Meanwhile, an Epworth man with a history of travelling to Durban and exhibiting flu-like symptoms spent the better part of yesterday at Overspill Clinic in the dormitory town, with medical staff refusing to attend to him saying they had no protective clothing.
Epworth Local Board chairman councillor Batanai Masunda said the man in question was brought to the clinic in the morning, but was left unattended to for the whole day as medical staff said they did not have the required equipment.
“The patient has been lying around since he came to the clinic around 8am and no one attended to him. The staff said they were incapacitated and did not have protective clothing,” he said.
“They (medical staff) say they have no protective clothing and they are negotiating with Marondera to see if he can be transferred there.”
Masunda said a senior doctor at Wilkins Hospital also refused to attend to him, saying the medical staff could not deal with the matter without protective clothing, confirming that the country’s biggest isolation centre had temporarily shut down due to lack of protective clothing.