Coronavirus exposes Zim’s weaknesses on preparedness to control infectious diseases

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Coronavirus exposes Zim’s weaknesses on preparedness to control infectious diseases

(L-R):Mutare City Council public relations manager Spren Mutiwi, the deputy Mayor Clr Kudakwashe Chisango, His Worship Mayor Blessing Tandi and the acting director of Health Services Dr Kudzai Murembwe during the press conference. The Mayor was illustrating how the public should be cautious of coronavirus by covering up especially in populated places.

…All suspected cases to be referred to Wilkins Hospital in Harare

Ngoni Dapira

MOST of Zimbabwe’s public hospitals and infectious diseases hospitals have been exposed to be unsafe and unprepared to quarantine people with infectious respiratory diseases such as the coronavirus  that has since been declared a pandemic, Easterntimeszim has learnt.

This development will question and open pandora’s box on where funds were being channeled to by the Ministry of Health and Child Care since the dawn of the new millennium when another respiratory disease, tuberculosis (TB) received a lot of funding through the Global Fund. The Global Fund is an international partnership that mobilises resources towards ongoing campaigns to eradicate HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics.

Tuberculosis (TB) has over the years been highly associated with HIV infection in Zimbabwe and at its peak an estimated 80 percent of TB cases were co-infected with HIV, which saw Global Fund channeling a lot of money towards HIV and TB initiatives, including infrastructure upgrade which was considered highly necessary to combat the epidemic and reduce mortality rates of hospitalised patients.

Following the pronouncement by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday, who declared the coronavirus pandemic as a national disaster, Mutare City Council called on a press conference the following day to sensitize its residents on its preparedness on the coronavirus (COVID-19). The local authority had however already initiated a COVID-19 and Malaria awareness campaign in all its 19 Wards which started on Monday ending next week Tuesday.

Mutare Mayor Blessing Tandi (black suit) speaking with residents in Ward 3 during one of the COVID-19 and Malaria awareness campaigns.

Mutare Mayor councilor Blessing Tandi revealed that the city’s infectious disease hospital was not capacitated to quarantine patients in the event of coronavirus being detected, which is why for now all suspected cases will be immediately referred to Harare at Wilkins Hospital, which is one of the centres being used to quarantine suspected patients.

Mayor Tandi said in their response to the threats of COVID-19 the local authority is therefore embarking on a financial mobilization drive so that they immediately renovate the Mutare Infectious Disease Hospital (MIDH), citing that the project could require US$400 000.

“This is a disaster (COVID-19) and it is not budgeted for. Yes, we can have a contingency budget but we will not be able to satisfy the renovations that should be done at MIDH. This is why we have to plea with the corporate world and international organisations to come and assist us to renovate or upgrade our MIDH into a usable safe isolation unit at the earliest possible time,” said the Mutare Mayor.

He said the renovations will include replacing obsolete mattresses and beds, painting the facility with oil paint that is sanitizable and washable for infection control and replacing the old wooden tiles with ceramic tiles. The Mayor added that the physical design of an infectious hospital is an essential component of its infection control measures to minimize the risk of transmission of any infectious disease. “When the old hospitals were built, there were minimal concerns of new emerging infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. For example, single rooms may be more useful to have as they can be converted to isolation rooms more readily during an outbreak. Healthcare buildings are also a complex environment with a need for specialized theatre,” he said.

The old entrance into MIDH reflects the dilapidated state it is said to be in.

During one of the awareness campaigns on Tuesday in Ward 3, at Sakubva Flea Market, members of the public raised crucial points such as the need for an emergency toll free number for health alerts. They cited that due to economic hardships some want to make reports on health alerts but have no money in their mobile phones.

Mayor Tandi during the presser, responded to the toll free number plight and said they would flag the concern with the central government which they hope will soon avail resources towards the COVID-19 response strategy for local authorities because at the moment they are also cash strapped.

“This is not a local authority issue but a national disaster, so we are hoping central government will be able to disburse some resources for us to roll down programmes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As an authority what we have done so far is to just do initiate awareness campaigns to our residents,” he said.

He added that the border patrols have been intensified and temporary isolation units have been set up at Forbes Border Post to Mozambique.

COVID-19 is a respiratory tract infection caused by a newly emergent coronavirus that had not been previously identified in humans. It is highly contagious and spreads through droplets (coughing, sneezing) and close personal unprotected contact with an infected person (touching, shaking hands etc). Its signs and symptoms are typically respiratory related symptoms and include fever, cough, shortness of breath and other flu-like symptoms.

As of Wednesday, there are now more than 700 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the African continent, with a number of African countries imposing a range of prevention and containment measures against the spread of the pandemic.a suspected case is identified.

So far Zimbabwe and neighbours Mozambique have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 but Mayor Tandi said the porous Forbes border, particularly the illegal routes used to smuggle in bales of second hand clothes from Mozambique will be an issue of concern if the virus spreads into either countries.

“As city of Mutare we are however on high alert to mitigate the coronavirus from spreading into the city. Currently 50 travelers have been followed up in Mutare as of March 18 and none tested positive of the virus. Nursing staff and environmental health staff are on high priority for recruitment and as we speak we are in the process of recruiting extra nurses to try and help us in the management of the pandemic. Our nursing staff are already going through courses on case management and infection control protocols. We also have a rapid response steam on high alert.”

He said 12 additional nurses will be recruited to assist the 29 nursing staff they had initially intended to employ in all their clinics.

The Mayor encouraged coughing etiquette in public and urged residents to report suspected cases in their neighbourhoods. Easterntimeszim during the consultations however received complaints by residents who called on government to make it free for one to get tested for COVID-19. One resident said people were paying consultation fees for medical checkups on symptoms for the coronavirus at public hospitals and clinics, regardless of the virus having being declared a national disaster.

President Mnangagwa yesterday (Thursday) launched the country’s Covid-19 National Preparedness and Response Plan. He said the country’s preparedness measures have been stepped up through heightened surveillance systems at national, provincial and district levels with special focus on all ports of entry through the country, which will ensure mandatory screening of all visitors entering the country at ports of entry.

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