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Impact of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe may be far worse than reported and anticipated due to limited testing capacity, says Doctors organization

August 5, 2020

By Wallace Mawire

A woman is screened by a healthcare worker before visiting a relative at a public hospital in Harare [Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP Photo]

 The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) worried that the impact of Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe may be far worse than reported and anticipated due to limited testing capacity,a fragile health system currently plagued by manpower challenges,lack of accountability and persistent underfunding of the health sector, according to its 8th Covid-19 Monitoring and Advocacy Report.

ZADHR is a member of International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations (IFHHRO) and has Observer Status for the  African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The organization reports that increases in Covid-19 cases in the country have seen the shifting of the epidemiological profile of the pandemic from imported cases to widespread local transmission with heath care workers and prison officials also testing positive.

   “These vulnerabilities pose an existential threat of a devastating and long-lasting pandemic further worsening the plight of vulnerable groups,” ZADHR said.

   ZADHR publishes the brief as part of its continuous audit of the Covid-19 response in Zimbabwe and to provide recommendations to the government and health officials.

 It says that in response to the rising cases of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe the government of Zimbabwe on the 22nd of July 2020 promulgated the Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (national Lockdown) (Amendment) Order, 2020 (No.14) to extend the lockdown period indefinitely with more stringent conditions.

  The Order has seen the introduction of a 6am to 6pm curfew and reverts to the initial lockdown order that allows for only essential services workers to move without restrictions.

 “ We note that despite the lessons learnt in the initial response the government has proceeded to instate the same measures without paying due attention to factors that led to numerous cases of people violating the lockdown restrictions, such as the lack of a strong, efficient and responsive social safety programme for the poor,” ZADHR SAID.

 It adds that, as ZADHR they continue to reiterate that the lockdown measures should not be used for political expediency but for the furtherance of the public health agenda.

  “This can only be achieved through expansion in testing and contact tracing capacity and widespread community education on Covid- 19 preventive measures. We also note a press statement by the ZRP on 25 July 2020 on documents required at checkpoints and roadblocks. Under medical resupplies the police require citizens to provide their medical cards/prescription and contact details of their doctor. As ZADHR we reiterate that medical documents such as prescriptions and medical cards are private and confidential documents. Patients have a right to privacy of medical information and the police have no right to access these confidential documents, unless directed by a court,” they said.

  They added that they acknowledge the need to restrict unnecessary movement of citizens, but such important measures need to be done whilst upholding basic rights of citizens.

  On  quarantine facilities ZADHR says that it continues to receive reports of returnees absconding detention due to a number of factors that include but not limited to poor living conditions characterised by a sorry state of WASH facilities and access to other basic amenities leading to greater interaction between the returnees in quarantine facilities and the outside world posing an existential threat to communities.

  They add that the situation is compounded by extended turnaround times for test results and or delayed testing leading to lengthy stays in quarantine facilities.

   ZADHR also noted the petition by the Concerned Residents Waterfalls (CRW) to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Harare City Health Department, Harare Covid-19 Taskforce and to the ZRP Waterfalls Police Station on the 23rd of July 2020 over reportedly irregular establishment of a quarantine centre at the ZAOGA FIF owned properties located at number RE 3/A Powel Road, Parktown, Waterfalls, Harare and 13B Powel Road, Parktown, Waterfalls, Harare and failure by the authorities to secure the facilities.

   The CRW notes that persons quarantined at 13B Powell Road were getting in and out of the gate freely without restrictions exposing the community to a potential health threat and that the same persons were entertaining visitors by the gate, exchanging goodies and taking selfies in clear violation of the stipulated Covid-19 guidelines.

 “We urge the government to respond to the Waterfalls residents concerns and abide by the court order of 3rd of June 2020 by the High Court compelling the government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care to improve the state of conditions i.e. conducive living conditions at the quarantine facilities and improve the turnaround times for test results,” they said.

 On  Personal Protective Equipment ZADHR said that it  laments the growing trend in health professionals who are testing positive to the corona virus, where the majority of these cases are attributable to exposure at the workplace due to lack of PPE.

  It is added that reports indicate that over 200 health workers have tested positive countrywide.

 “Of note is 25 health workers testing positive at Zvishavane District Hospital, 3 at Claybank Private Hospital in Gweru, 70 in Bulawayo and another 70 at Parirenyatwa with the rest dotted across the country. The failure to provide frontline health workers with adequate PPE flies in the face of the 14th of April 2020 High Court order which ordered the government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care to “provide all frontline health personnel at public health facilities in the country or deployed to trace contacts exposed by infected people, are provided with personal protective equipment (PPE)…” to protect them from the deadly CoronaVirus. Further, we have also noted that there is no priority in providing information in the Ministry’s daily updates on the number of health  professionals who have tested positive, recovering or deceased,” ZADHR said.

  They added that they urged the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Health Services Board (HSB) to provide a brief on the numbers, region/province and status of all health professionals’ who have tested positive to Covid-19 to date.

 “We continue to urge the government to improve the workplace safety of health workers through timeous and adequate provision of PPE to protect healthcare workers from contracting Covid-19,” ZADHR said.

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