ZIMBABWE’S 1 500 doctors working at public health institutions are exposed to the killer coronavirus after government failed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and have sued to force authorities to act, NewsDay has learnt.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
The doctors have also expressed alarm at the low levels of testing in the country after thousands of people from COVID-19-infected countries came into the country without being tested.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) yesterday filed an urgent High Court application to force government to issue PPEs to the frontline defenders against COVID-19.
The frontline health workers cited in the suit include doctors, police officers, soldiers, municipal workers manning roadblocks and Zupco drivers, who are at great risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
“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 lawsuit reads.
In their submissions, the doctors said the essential services workers with whom they shared public transport were not subjected to tests and screening, exposing them to possible infection.
ZADHR demanded PPEs for health workers up to district level hospitals, saying if urgent steps are not taken, many lives would be lost.
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The doctors cited the Health, Finance and Transport ministries as respondents.
In consulting with patients exhibiting and some not exhibiting signs and symptoms of the virus, the doctors said they were vulnerable and that they also were duty-bound to treat even positive cases.
They argued that on their way to and from work, the health workers share the same Zupco transport with other civil service officials, including the drivers, who 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 doctors submitted.
There are 1 500 doctors working in public institutions across the country without PPEs, the doctors said.
Specialists, nurse aides, technicians, pharmacists and other health practitioners bear the brunt of the pandemic since they are vulnerable. “Reports in the public domain suggest that in Italy, as at March 18, 2020, at least 2 629 health workers had been infected by coronavirus since the onset of the outbreak in February, representing 8,3% of total cases,” the submission read.
“There are dire shortages of appropriate well-equipped hospitals with ventilators, oxygen tanks, Hazmat suits, N95 masks and properly manned quarantine and isolation facilities in the country. Every district hospital must have such facilities, but currently, those facilities are in Harare and Bulawayo, leaving citizens outside these centres at risk of failing to access health care.”
Each of the doctors requires an average of three face masks per day, translating to 4 500 daily, but at the moment, government has considered it a luxury despite the crucial nature of the equipment.
“There are no adequate testing kits for both public and frontline health practitioners. Fewer people are being tested. 13 days after the first case, only 316 persons have been tested across the country. This is despite the fact that 107 Zimbabweans who had travelled to Tanzania returned. At least 13 000 Zimbabweans from South Africa returned, but they have not been isolated or quarantined,” the frontline health workers said.
The doctors demanded that during the 21-day lockdown period, the government be ordered to ensure that adequate measures be put in place to close the airspace, to provide ventilators, masks and PPEs to all hospitals in the country and to establish more Level 3 laboratories to test infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
The cited respondents were yet to respond to the summons.
Globally, there were 1 312 494 confirmed coronavirus cases and 72 636 deaths as at 7pm last night. Zimbabwe has one death and nice confirmed cases, according to the Health ministry.
Meanwhile, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has commended health workers who are risking their lives at the frontline of the COVID-19 in commemoration of the World Health Day.
“My message today is to our healthcare workers — the nurses, midwives, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, doctors, drivers, cleaners, administrators and many others — who work, day and night to keep us safe,” he said.
“Today, we are more deeply grateful than ever to all of you, as you work, round the clock, putting yourselves at risk, to fight the ravages of this pandemic.
“2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, and I want to recognise their specific expertise and commitment.” Guterres said nurses shoulder some of the biggest healthcare burdens, adding midwives’ work was even more challenging during this period.
“In these traumatic times, I say to all healthcare workers: we stand with you and we count on you … We are indebted to you,” he said.