THE year 2022 was eventful in the health sector, where outbreaks of diseases considered medieval such as measles and polio overtook the two-year global pandemic, COVID-19, in terms of deaths in a short space of time.
The country also witnessed a reduction in maternal deaths, and introduction of the eye strategy in the wake of increased eye conditions, mainly catalysed by diabetes.
Below are some highlights of the health sector in 2022.
The year 2022 started off on a positive note as COVID-19 cases had dropped compared to the same period the previous year, where fatalities of the dreaded pandemic increased in the blink of an eye, with many deaths recorded from the onset of the pandemic.
As such, the year was quite stable regarding COVID-19 with cases fluctuating, but with decreased deaths.
Government, as of Wednesday June 22, 2022 scrapped the night curfew. Opening hours for shops, bars and restaurants were extended.
Masks were also scrapped during the course of the year for fully vaccinated individuals in outdoor settings. However, for indoors, they remained mandatory.
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The lifting of the curfew and wearing of masks was for the first time since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, although the curfew had many variations depending on the magnitude of crisis over the two-year period.
However, towards year-end in December, cases of COVID-19 began to soar in the country.
During the final post-Cabinet briefing for 2022, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Monica Mutsvangwa said over 200 new cases and six COVID-19-related deaths were recorded in the country in the previous week.
Government said it was on high alert and would increase testing and screening at ports of entry after reports that China had been hit again by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Four months into 2022, another health crisis emerged, this time originating from Mutasa district in Manicaland province, an area largely dominated by apostolic sect members.
Measles, a medieval disease whose return on April 10, 2022, raised questions over the country’s health security, was at the centre of the crisis.
The disease, that was considered long forgotten, re-emerged in the country, with a rapid and fatal spread.
It overtook COVID-19 in terms of fatalities, which were way above in comparison with the period of inception.
By September 2022, more than 750 children had died of measles, prompting authorities to hastily put a plan in action, which entailed introducing a measles vaccination programme that began in September.
This was after more than 2 000 people, including adults, had been affected by measles as of August 17, 2022.
By August, measles had claimed the lives of 157 children, all of them were not immunised against the disease.
During the immunisation programme, government mainly targeted apostolic sects, especially in the Mutasa area, where they dominate, encouraging them to warm up to vaccination, which they eventually did.
In October 2022, according to Manicaland provincial medical director Munyaradzi Mukuzunga, the province recorded zero measles cases.
There was a generally low incidence of measles for the same period countrywide.
In October, the country launched a polio vaccination campaign to guard against the disease that had been detected in neighbouring Mozambique, although no case has been reported locally to date.
A follow-up vaccination exercise was done from December 1 to 4 this year as the country sought to intensify immunity from the disease.
Cases of diabetes were on the rise during 2022, mainly Type 2.
Health and Child Care deputy minister John Mangwiro said: “General statistics show an increase because there is massive rural-to-urban migration. Westernisation of diets is also contributing to the increase. There is need to have a lot of awareness and campaigns and more stories about diabetes. There is need to encourage people to get tested and know how to deal with the condition.”
HIV and Aids
For 2022, the major highlight was the country winning the bid to host the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa to be held in December next year.
After winning the bid, National Aids Council chief executive officer Bernard Madzima said: “Winning the bid was a big step in the positive direction as we have been recognised in Africa as a leader in terms of the HIV programme. Our country also recorded successes as per the global HIV report, which says we achieved the 2025 targets of 95-95-95 midway through the projected time. We are very proud of that as a country. We are also happy that we managed to curtail and to incorporate issues of COVID-19 in HIV programming, thereby averting the anticipated increase in deaths due to the comorbidity of HIV with COVID-19.”
The other good thing that happened in 2022 was the Global Fund replenishment.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa pledged US$1 million funding for the Global Fund 2024-26.
“We have contributed to the Global Fund as a country and we are proud of that,” Mnangagwa said.
Overview of the health sector
Health expert Josephat Chiripanyanga said: “In 2022, our health delivery system generally improved. We look back to 2020 and 2021 and see the challenges that we had from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. It was difficult for us to achieve some of the goals that we had in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 because most of the resources were being channelled towards COVID-19.”
He said with COVID-19 milestones having been achieved, there was now need to look after the elderly and chronic patients.
“Treatment has improved significantly and access to health facilities has improved. Generally, the health of our people has improved. In 2021, we had a significant number of neonatal and under five deaths which got to about 5 000 for the whole year, which was very high. We hope this year the figures will be lower than that because there has been an increase in access to health.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said: “Zimbabwe is currently grappling with a massive health worker exodus due to low remuneration and poor working conditions in the hospitals, among other health system challenges.
“The once well performing and envied health system is visibly failing to serve the needs of the citizens, as evidenced by closure of clinics and significant reduction in services offered at hospitals across the levels.
“Some central hospitals’ statistics now resemble district or lower-level facilities at a time when the need for health services has increased due to huge disease burden and population increase.”
Rusike said Zimbabwe’s health sector continued to be in the doldrums due to a plethora of challenges.
“The country’s health financing has consistently been well below the 15% proportionate funding from the fiscus since the Abuja Declaration of 2001. Regular power outages at health institutions have added to the disruptions in the few available health services, while at ports of entry there is scanty information available on public spaces about the disease profiles in the districts, provinces and the nation at large,” he said.
“There are continuous health worker strikes that impede access to health as people are not attended to when they seek health services at healthcare centres during strikes. Add to that, the institutions do not have adequate medicines due to inadequate supplies and pilferages as the poorly paid healthcare workers try to make a living within the workspace.
“The weakened and overburdened health system has benefited from the government wide response to COVID-19, but its frailty amidst the huge global challenge after COVID-19 emerged has proved a tough test to nation’s health security agenda.”