Doctors’ protective wear a fundamental right: High Court


The High Court has ordered government to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers across the country to protect them against contracting CIVID-19 while attending to patients.


The ruling came following an application filed by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) represented by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

They cited the Health and Child Care, Finance as well as Transport ministries as respondents.

The doctors wanted government to provide frontline health workers attending to cases of COVID-19 with personal protective equipment as the current environment made them vulnerable to the virus.

Justices Owen Tagu and Joseph Musakwa granted the application by consent of the parties.

“For the duration of COVID-19 lockdown or extended period, the Ministry of Health shall ensure that adequate measures are put in place to prevent, contain and treat the incidence of COVID-19 and, in particular, ensure within the limit of resources that appropriate equipped quarantine and isolation facilities are established in all provinces district hospitals and at the designated airports and port of entry,” the order read.

The judges ordered that all frontline health practitioners working at public health facilities in the country or deployed to trace suspected cases be provided with adequate personal protective equipment.

The court further ordered the Ministry of Health to extensively screen and test COVID-19 patients, including door-to-door testing in order to account for asymptomatic carriers.

“More laboratories must be equipped to test highly infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and establish in every province to increase the turnaround time for tests to be conducted. Drivers of Zupco and their assistants, security personnel and essential service employees are regularly screened and tested.”

In their application, the doctors said some of the health workers reside in communities, where they share accommodation with other citizens.

“We cannot account for the activities of those whom they share premises with and their contacts and there is risk of contracting the virus from the nature of their accommodation facilities given that there is no rapid testing, screening or treatment of symptomatic cases,” the doctors said.

They said that on their way to and from work, the healthcare workers share the same public transport with other civil service officials including the drivers and they are not subjected to any testing and screening leaving them vulnerable.

“Policemen, soldiers and municipal workers who are manning roadblocks are at great risk of contracting the coronavirus. They are barely equipped with sufficient protective clothing to minimise their risk of exposure and at the conclusion of their duties they then use the same public transport thereby putting health workers in contact with the virus.”

The Health ministry did not oppose the application claiming it was waiting for Treasury to release the funds they budgeted for the programme, which is around US$199 344 544.

Meanwhile, Harare North MP Allan Norman Markham (MDC Alliance) and human rights activist Mfundo Mlilo have dragged President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ministers to court to force them to provide safety nets for struggling Zimbabweans and cushion them during the 21-day lockdown.
The matter was also heard yesterday by Justice Tagu, who however, reserved judgment.

Tendai Biti represented the applicants and cited Mnangagwa, ministers Mthuli Ncube (Finance), Obadiah Moyo (Health), July Moyo (Local Government) and Joel Biggie Matiza (Transport) as respondents.
The other cited officials were Kazembe Kazembe (Home Affairs), Oppah Muchinguri (Defence) and Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga.

Biti said government was obliged to provide residents with potable water, food, money and other essentials during the lockdown, adding that it was folly to impose such measures on people without providing essentials.

“We were arguing that the Constitution provides for right to life, right to health and if you are going to lockdown people in a country where 95% of the people are unemployed, where 79% of the people in a country are leaving in extreme poverty then you have a problem,” he said.

“If you are going to lock people in, give them food otherwise they will go out and that will be a threat to right to life itself and the right to health so safety nets should be provided for by the State.”

The application, Biti said, was not opposed adding that he remained hopeful the court will issue an order allowing the executive to issue a statutory instrument that recognises safety nets.

Biti said authorities have no basis for extending or not extending the lockdown as they have no adequate data.

“We are not testing, unfortunately. Zimbabwe so far has done 500 tests, so in the absence of data, the authorities do not have the basis of making a decision of extending or not extending. In our view, there is no point in locking down people unless you are actually testing. The whole idea of a lockdown is to enable the cycle and in those 14 days you are not testing, there is no basis for lockdown, massive tests are missing in Zimbabwe,” Biti said.