Covid-19 has now quaked the entire world with more than 120 000 deaths and prevalence of more than 1,6 million. USA is the most affected country in the world with more than 22 000 casualties. Under normal circumstances, we do not expect such calamitous death coming from world economic giants such as Italy, UK, Spain, USA as these countries are developed with far much better health facilities.
Africa is ranked a very poor continent with a lot of people living below the poverty datum line. Can we imagine if all the 600 000 COVID-19 patients currently in USA were actually in our country, Zimbabwe.
How were we going to tackle the issue? Let us then observe measures that our government put into place in a bid to contain the pandemic: Social isolation, quarantine and lockdown.
On the other hand, government should intensify testing so that by the end of lockdown, all possible cases would have been identified. South Africa has unleashed 28 000 health workers onto the community to do mass counselling and testing.
For a war to be won, we need fighters. It does not matter whether fighters come from the private or public sectors. Private practitioners in this case refer to doctors, nurses, radiographers, pharmacists, sonographers, scientists who work in the private sector but still serving the people of our great nation, Zimbabwe.
I have noted lately that almost all medical institutions have scaled down their operations including central hospitals like Parirenyatwa Hospital. This has been necessitated by the increased desire to fully prepare for COVID-19 confrontation which is a noble idea.
Our private practitioners have shown brevity in continuing to offer medical care to the populace, making it easy for the nation to function.
It is bewildering to note that private practitioners are not recognised easily in our country and their efforts seem irrelevant to the nation. When COVID-19 planning is done, no one puts private practitioners in their minds, yet they are among the most exposed to this deadly coronavirus.
When patients become sick, surely their first port of call is not Wilkins Hospital in Harare but a community clinic or a surgery in the locality. The practitioner will try to screen there but with some patients now concealing symptoms, it becomes a disaster for the entire community and surgeries, clinics have grotesque potential to become the new hubs of transmission.
Some of the surgeries are grossly incapacitated to even purchase N95 masks, googles and gloves, so the staff is surely exposed.
The incapacitation is augmented by some medical aid societies which have not paid a single dollar since the beginning of the year. How then do these private practitioners assist in containment and mitigation of COVID-19?
It is my prayer that when forecasting and planning are done, private practitioners are considered. It is my prayer that government, through the Health ministry, considers these important private players who are actually contributing to the building blocks of our health delivery system in Zimbabwe.
Simple items can be supplied to medical centres or surgeries to augment medical service. Sanitisers, gloves and masks can be availed to these players as they constitute what we call ‘frontline workers’ as well. If other countries can sanitise the whole cities by spraying, why not sanitise surgeries and clinics that are working for the benefit of the nation so that they do not become the new epicentres of transmission? This is where corporates should chip in with their resources.
We have heard about Old Mutual and Delta assisting, but the clauses that are said to cover private practitioners are not conspicuous, leaving us to wonder whether private medical players are regarded as important at all.
If the pandemic is to remain in situ for some time, it may reach a time that private practitioners may volunteer to join government colleagues in the fight against COVID-19.
We ought to work as a team that coordinates all activities well, knowing all the routes of patient referrals and results of the patients. Relatives of patients that we refer for screening continue to come to surgeries, exposing the medical staff to more misery.
On another note, I passed through Nyabira Clinic with a patient who wanted to have BP check and noted with disgust how unprepared the clinic was for COVID-19.
There was no PPE, no infrared thermometer, no enough masks, but of course some two or three bottles of sanitisers. Can such clinics not become hubs of transmission in the event of suspected cases? Whoever is responsible for capacitating such rural clinics should urgently address such medical centres? We have dedicated staff that is poorly equipped.
In short, the Health ministry and corporates can reduce COVID-19 by considering the private medical practitioners and sidelining them will be detrimental to success. Together, we will conquer!
Johannes Marisa is a private and public health practitioner who writes as interim president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe. He can be accessed on firstname.lastname@example.org.