LOCAL medical doctors have expressed concern over the low numbers of people being tested for the deadly coronavirus in the country as the United Nations (UN) yesterday warned that Africa could lose millions of lives to the novel virus in the next fortnight if developed countries fail to assist the continent.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE/RICHARD MUPONDE
The UN said the virus would remain a vicious circle in the world if developed countries fail to mobilise resources and urgently provide test kits, masks, ventilators and protective suits for health workers to avert loss of millions of lives in Africa.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) secretary Norman Matara yesterday appealed to the international community to intervene and save the country from a catastrophic attack from the virus considering its weak health system and struggling economy.
“We wish and pray that the international community intervenes to help (curb) the spread of the disease by providing us with test kits and other protective measures to help health workers in the fight against coronavirus,” Matara said.
“The number of people being tested in Zimbabwe is worrisome. They (authorities) should copy other countries like South Africa in increasing the numbers of people being tested and that is the only solution to know and control the spread of the virus.”
Matara added: “This coronavirus has come at a time we have a weak health system. The only effective measure in Zimbabwe is to combat the spread of the disease by employing lockdown measures, which is the only cheapest way of controlling the disease for us at the moment.
“The government has not been providing enough funding for our health and this is leaving us vulnerable and if we fail to contain this, we will be wiped.”
Zimbabwe has recorded one fatality from eight confirmed COVID-19 cases.
According to the Health ministry, about 233 people out of a population of 15 million have been tested since the country recorded its first case.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week imposed a 21-day national lockdown, which became effective on Monday as part of efforts to combat the spread of the virus, but observers said the measure would not be effective without adequately equipping public health facilities.
ZADHR, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have been challenging government to do more to combat a possible huge outbreak.
The human rights doctors said the country required a clear referral pathway, apart from back-up diagnostic kits, personal protective equipment and expertise to be able to tackle the deadly virus, which has collapsed the world economy since it was discovered in Wuhan, China last December.
About 6,6 million jobs are already at stake in the United States, the world’s economic giant, which has recorded over 200 000 cases, the highest in the world, and over 5 000 deaths.
Italy, the epicentre of the virus in Europe, has lost nearly 14 000 lives from around 115 000 infections, with Spain, another European country, recording as high as 10 000 deaths as the healthcare systems buckle under pressure.
Despite measures put in place by African governments to contain the spread of COVID-19, several countries on the continent have no capacity to roll out massive testing, risking a quick spreading of the deadly virus.
Africa has 5 786 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 196 deaths in 49 countries, with neighbouring South Africa, with over 1 300 confirmed cases, leading the pack.
South Africa has announced plans to dispatch about 10 000 field workers to roll out a mass screening programme for the coronavirus.
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said he feared millions of people would die from coronavirus in Africa if the G20 countries, which hold 80% of the global economy, did not work together to pool resources for developing African countries.
“Africa is in urgent need of test kits, masks, ventilators, protective suits for health workers. We can still prevent the worst in Africa, but without a massive mobilisation, we will have millions and millions of people contaminated, which means millions of deaths,” Guterres said in a statement yesterday.
“Africa should be the priority of the international community as the continent does not have the resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the virus mutates, all the investment we are putting into vaccines will be for nothing because the virus will then travel from the south back to the north. So it is in the interest of countries in the north to help the south.”
Last week, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Africa to brace for the worst, claiming statistics were too understated due to unavailability of testing kits.
“The best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today,” he said.
Meanwhile, government and the United Nations have launched a US$715 million humanitarian response plan for 2020, which will see off the fight on effects of drought, Cyclone Idai and COVID-19, which has claimed thousands of lives globally.
The 2020 humanitarian response plan for Zimbabwe was launched yesterday, targeting 5,6 million people with food assistance and support in the areas of health, water-sanitation-hygiene, education, protection, nutrition, shelter and camp co-ordination and management.
The plan seeks to mobilise US$715 million from the international community.
In a statement, the UN said the humanitarian response plan would play a key role in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable communities.