GOVERNMENT has been accused of bungling and not conducting enough tests to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed three people in Zimbabwe, with doctors demanding an audit of circumstances that led to the death of a 79-year-old Bulawayo man on Saturday.
BY MOSES MATENGA/GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
The third person, a 50-year-old man, who had been reported as the ninth patient, died yesterday at Wilkins Hospital, in Harare.
In a statement, the Health ministry said the man started exhibiting mild symptoms 11 days after his return from the United Kingdom.
On April 2, he was diagnosed of COVID-19 with an underlying condition and was admitted into Wilkins on April 7 after his condition deteriorated, leading to his death yesterday.
Reacting to the circumstances leading to the second coronavirus death after the victim was exposed in March, the doctors said government was not working towards mass testing to combat the fast-spreading virus.
There are fears Zimbabwe could be in worse situation than that being acknowledged by authorities.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) has demanded an audit on circumstances leading to the man’s death and also want Health minister Obadiah Moyo to explain what he meant when he said the country was ready to deal with the virus when the situation on the ground was proving to be contrary.
“It took five days (from April 2 to April 7) to get the result of COVID-19, a period which is rather too long,” the doctors said in a statement.
“The absence of diagnostic facilities of COVID-19 brings to question the state of preparedness of centres outside Harare. What is the government doing to improve the turnaround time for tests?” the doctors quizzed.
The doctors demanded answers on whether the institution that treated the man earlier was an infectious disease hospital or a COVID-19 designated facility, adding many health workers could have been exposed as they lacked personal protective equipment.
They also questioned why the now-deceased was not forced into self-isolation, tested and managed as a suspected case immediately.
The Bulawayo man, according to the Health and Child Care ministry, initially presented to his doctor on March 23 with a history of a cough, sore throat and fever and was put on oral antibiotic treatment.
When he did not improve, he presented himself to a local hospital on April 2 and was admitted after presenting, at that time, with a cough, difficulty in breathing, sore throat and a fever.
The patient died while awaiting results and government only announced his death on Tuesday.
Opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa described the ongoing 21-day national lockdown without mass testing for the virus an inadequate measure to slow down the COVID-19 epidemic.
“A lockdown without testing is not helpful,” Chamisa told NewsDay yesterday. “The purpose of a lockdown is to contain the spread of the disease and break the chain of transmission, but in our situation, it is just like forcing people into a prison. We really need a different approach and it is a wake-up call. The ostrich is notorious for burying its head in the sand.”
Former Health minister Henry Madzorera said it was worrying that not enough people were being tested and accused government of bungling the process.
“That is what we have been saying, that we are not testing enough,” Madzorera said.
“Right now, we have very few suspects, we must test all of them.
Government should aim at testing at least 200 people a day and that will cover everyone because we don’t know the prevalence now of the infection.”
He said Zimbabwe was sitting on a time bomb by not embarking on massive testing, presenting an opportunity for the virus to spread.
“We hear this one ended up being buried without adequate monitoring as people did not know what had killed him. Imagine all the mourners who were there, nobody knew. It was probably not a supervised burial, so that is our cry to say let them test more,” he said.
“If they don’t have test kits let them say so and as a nation, we put our heads together and see what we can do to get more tests.
Contact tracing is not happening at all. They tell us lies that they have tested 30 people and all, but what do you do when you test them?”
ZADHR secretary Norman Matara said the development confirmed what the doctors had always been saying.
“The ministry cannot continue using the criteria of people who would have travelled or who have come from a risky country, symptoms or contacts. Those things don’t work now,” Matara said, adding there was need for mass testing.
Meanwhile, there was panic at Chiredzi General Hospital yesterday as nurses refused to handle the body of a 30-year-old Mkwasine Estates woman suspected to have succumbed to COVID-19.
The woman reportedly arrived at the health institution with respiratory problems.
Chiredzi district medical officer Brian Dhlandlara confirmed the panic, but said no tests had been done to conclude it was coronavirus.
“Yes, I can confirm there is so much panic at the hospital, but it has not been confirmed that it’s COVID-19. The tests have not been done,” he said.
“It can only be confirmed when samples are taken, tests done, and then the official position will be given. At the moment, it’s just speculation. These days, if people see anyone coughing, they conclude it’s coronavirus.”
Chiredzi district development co-ordinator Lovemore Chisema, who is the chairperson of the local COVID-19 taskforce, said: “It is true, and it is happening. Get more details from the DMO. Whatever he is saying is what’s on the ground.
“We, however, requested that samples be collected for testing so that we are clear of what we will be dealing with. Until then, we will treat this case with extreme care.”