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Rural folks need help on COVID-19

Opinion & Analysis
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc with daily deaths maintaining a three-figure range. On Tuesday, Zimbabwe recorded 107 deaths, the highest since the outbreak of the virus in 2019.

COVID-19 is wreaking havoc with daily deaths maintaining a three-figure range. On Tuesday, Zimbabwe recorded 107 deaths, the highest since the outbreak of the virus in 2019.

Despite the threat posed by coronavirus, there are disturbing scenarios of people who seem not perturbed by the scourge yet lives continue to be lost. Many stories have been written about COVID-19, however, many people still do not observe symptoms and signs of the disease. We have had numerous deaths which were attributed to ignorance.

It is imperative to take COVID-19 seriously if we are to avert further disaster. COVID-19 is wreaking havoc everywhere, with rural areas also affected. Many African countries are being hit hard with South Africa, Tunisia, Mozambique being the most affected — with both morbidity and mortality moving at an unprecedented speed.

People are different with some being non-conformist and others traditionalistic who despise modernism. Our rural people need assistance if the spread of COVID-19 is to be averted as their traditionalistic attitude and behaviour are significantly fuelling both morbidity and mortality.

It was some few days ago when I received news that one of the village heads in my rural area had died after battling shortness of breadth at home for just five days.

What touched me was the level of ignorance of the people in the surrounding villages who thronged the funeral and attributed the sad death to witchcraft, yet it was COVID-19.

The community elders ordered a burial on the next day. I doubt if a post-humous COVID-19 test was done. It is an indisputable fact that many people got infected at that funeral and casualties will emerge in few days.

The loathsome virus will surely hit us with many casualties. Our country has just imported two million more vaccine doses from China, making it one of the fastest movers in Africa, in terms of inoculation drive.

Ignorance is socially constructed and it pervades social life in many ways. We have every reason to be disconcerted during this third wave. Almost every family has lost a member to COVID-19 and it seems all age groups are equally affected. The third wave is proving to be the deadliest with the month of July alone contributing to at least one third of all deaths in Zimbabwe.

This is frightening considering that no one knows exactly when the third wave is going to end. It is a sad development for Africa considering how underdeveloped health infrastructure is.

Measures should surely be put in place to urgently flatten the curve. It is sad as all age groups are infected and affected with serious impact on the political, economic and social aspects  of life.

The sad observation is that the virus seems to slip under our noses and many of the infections occur under our watch as our behaviour determines the extent of the infections.

What is needed is discipline and compliance with the stipulated public health measures if we are to be safe.

Hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients requiring oxygen because of hypoxia, a condition where oxygen saturation goes below 80%. It is sad to note that the virus is moving like whirlwind.

The unfortunate part is that despite all these infections, the populace is not as serious as it was during the second wave, raising fears that we may be headed for a medical catastrophe.

The diabetics are in big trouble and it is my advice that these patients should not be wholly attended to at their homes. I have noted with concern that diabetics complicate quite easily and allowing their saturation to slide below 80% is a recipe for disaster.

This third wave does not allow you to keep a diabetic patient in self-isolation because that patient needs proper medical checks and follow-ups. It is time to revise our management protocols from mere self-isolation to assisted isolation.

We have noted, as medical practitioners and foot soldiers, why many people are succumbing to COVID-19 in this third wave. Yes, we are a poor country but we have managed to curb the spread of the virus to a greater extent despite the limited resources in the country.

The medical personnel has shown tenacious determination to save lives. If we are to eradicate the virus, we need to accept some of the following:

Funerals are super spreaders

Funerals are showing a positive correlation with both morbidity and mortality. The correlation coefficient is surely greater than 0,5. What I observed at a recent rural funeral was that very few people actually observed the stipulated public health guidelines, which is a recipe for a medical catastrophe. We risk losing many of our rural folks due to ignorance. How can we flatten the epidemiological curve if our people are not wearing masks, and not observing social distancing among other measures.

Diaspora effect

It is unfortunate that many patients with relatives in the diaspora are reaching late stages of COVID-19 because they are advised to use all sorts of drugs at home. This is proving to be catastrophic. Some of the patients actually argue with the medical practitioners who are the COVID-19 fighters merely because a relative in the United Kingdom has prescribed some medication over the phone. I think Zimbabwe has managed COVID-19 better than United States of America, Italy, Germany or the United Kingdom. We are a poor country yes, however, measures put in place since 2020 have managed to contain the virus. The resilient medical staff in the country has done all in its power to save lives.

Continuous self-treatment should not be allowed

The assumption that COVID-19 is treated the same way as last time is misleading. The Delta variant is merciless and it seems to resist so many common treatments, hence putting the lives of many in danger. Patients with comorbidities should not self-treat as they tend to deteriorate suddenly. Diabetes, obesity, heart failure, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hypertension are all a thorn in the flesh.

Many patients we see in bad states require oxygen because of respiratory distress syndrome.

It is not a good idea that patients self-treat without the advice of medical personnel who should encourage them to have regular oxygen saturation checks with a pulse oximeter. Hypoxia is tearing many patients apart.

Lifting of public health measures is suicidal

For the past weeks, United Kingdom was recording less than 30 deaths per day. It was on Tuesday when suddenly, UK recorded 137 deaths, just few days after lifting restrictions. I am not sure why these countries do not learn. South Africa has moved to ease restrictions, but that is tantamount to shooting itself in the foot. Wait and see what will be happening in few weeks to come. Both Britain and South Africa will face difficult moments in few days with authorities introducing new restrictions sooner than later.

Who has prophesied that this is the last wave?

What if COVID-19 is going to have 10 phases? What is needed is protracted and sustained adherence to the pandemic’s preventive measures and not confused piece-meal strategies that seem to experiment with human life.

Medical advice should be sought

It is a pity that COVID-19 is striking even those who were previously infected. I saw seven such patients this week. Recently, two of my nurse colleagues lost their husbands to COVID-19 and the sad part is that both died at home. It was unfortunate that they were lost because the wives were treating them at home alone without seeking advice from other practitioners. It is my advice to everyone that they should at least consult to get the best medical advice that saves lives. The Delta variant is not as simple as many people might think. It is very virulent and if not contained early, can result in many more casualties.

Respect medical personnel

Many people believe that with the use of the internet,  they can now match medical staff in terms of knowledge, which is surely impossible. Internet has provided so many treatment modalities but we should realise that treatment differs based on the specific presentation, age, race or time. It is, thus, my advice that medical staff be allowed to execute their duties unhindered. Consult if you are not sure of what is supposed to be done.

As a routine reminder, please let us not forget the following:

l Many people are not observing public health measures like social distancing, masking up, hand-washing, sanitisation, which may breed more misery in few days to come. It is your duty to promote health, and masking up is not to evade police arrest but for your benefit. We ought to remain alert as a nation but what is happening especially in the high-density areas leaves a lot to be desired. We want to avoid a healthcare system catastrophe which may cause a number of cases and deaths, hence the need to flatten the epidemiological curve. We risk losing all aged rural folks or those with comorbidities like diabetes mellitus.

l It is the time for robust health education. Moreso, testing should be enhanced especially in rural areas where they do not observe COVID-19 rules. The media should play a critical role in information dissemination. Many people are complacent despite, that the virus is ravaging the country and it is not good news for rural areas where the health delivery system is in the intensive care. The way people are behaving in Zimbabwe leaves a lot to be desired, with some saying that there is no COVID-19 in the country. Hey, the virus is already upon us and people should learn to report symptoms and signs early. Self-treatment should never be allowed to go beyond a few days if patients are not showing marked improvement. Remember COVID-19 causes septic shock, thrombo-embolism, renal impairment, respiratory distress syndrome and complicated cases require oxygen or ventilation.

l Assume that all flu is COVID-19 until proven otherwise. Please report symptoms early and be suspicious when you have a sore throat, cough, hot body, headache, loss of taste, joint pain, fatigability, and loss of smell, among others. All age groups are not safe from the Delta variant.

Keep yourself safe. This is the time to be alert about the symptoms and signs of COVID-19. Avoid deterioration of the situation. Let us save ourselves from this scourge.