‘Do not neglect other killer diseases’

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THE government’s exclusive focus on containing the Covid-19 pandemic could expose the country’s health sector to other more deadly diseases that are being neglected, experts have warned.

This comes as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is working around the clock and channelling most of its resources to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed close to 340 000 people and affected over five million people across the globe.

“While the government is doing a good job to deal with Covid-19, we are now neglecting some people with other diseases,” Passmore Nyakureba, a legal practitioner with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said.

“There are diseases killing more people in Zimbabwe such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, malnutrition, influenza, pneumonia and cancer than Covid-19, and the concentration of resources on one pandemic spells disaster for the country’s fragile economy.”

Nyakureba, who was addressing an online meeting organised by the Zimbabwe Coalition of Debt and Development on Wednesday, noted that decisions being made by the government are short-sighted and only consider the short-term fight against Covid-19, at great cost to the future of the public healthcare system.

“The government must play its part in revamping the country’s deteriorating health system. For instance, the US$1,2 billion being realised from diamond mining in Chiadzwa is more than enough to upgrade our health facilities across the country,” he added.

In April, the government revealed that malaria had killed 152 people countrywide since the beginning of the year from 170 303 recorded cases.

This was a sharp increase in the number of cases and deaths compounded by the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed four people so far in the country and infected 51 others. Zimbabwe has so far conducted 34 707 tests for Covid-19.

The World Health Organisation also recently warned that malaria-prone countries like Zimbabwe were at risk of paying less attention to diseases such as malaria while fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, the malaria community must remain committed to supporting the prevention of malaria infection, illness and death through preventive and case management services, while maintaining a safe environment for patients, clients and staff.

“Deaths due to malaria and its co-morbidities — anaemia, under nutrition, etc — must continue to be prevented,” the United Nations unit said in a recent report.

Melinda Mushonga, a health expert, said it was unfortunate that the legitimate fear of Covid-19 has overshadowed all the other existing and potential causes of death.

“Comprehensive cancer activities were being escalated before Covid-19. These have been inadvertently put on hold or are scaled down due to a different global focus aimed at primarily addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Despite this, carcinogenesis processes are ongoing and continue unabated. Cancer which is an impending, ‘Tsunami’ in Zimbabwe has yet another opportunity to ravage communities unchecked. This is possibly a familiar occurrence in other low income countries,” Mushonga said.

Mushonga noted that a multi-sectoral, collaborative, integrated, comprehensive approach to all causes of mortality approach should be adopted to avoid a backlash of mortality from other causes beyond Covid-19.

Itai Rusike, the executive director of Community Working Group on Health, said the high malaria deaths were linked to the weakened health system.

“The spike in malaria cases and deaths during the Covid-19 crisis calls for a strong health system that is critical to help Zimbabwe respond to Covid-19 and protect the gains achieved over the years in the area of malaria prevention and control.

“The fragmented and vertical approach of our health delivery system may result in Zimbabwe experiencing unnecessary loss of life to a preventable and treatable disease like malaria,” Rusike said.

Zimbabwe’s health sector, once considered one of the best in Africa, is on its knees. Most the of the public hospitals are facing dire shortages of doctors and medical supplies, and are unable to undertake the most basic operations because of shortages of anaesthetics, sutures, and other essential supplies.

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