SENIOR STAFF WRITER
MEDICAL experts and human rights activists are up in arms over the government’s controversial plans to make public the names of all the people infected with the lethal coronavirus, the Daily News reports.
This comes after Health minister Obadiah Moyo, pictured, made a surprise announcement in Parliament on Wednesday that coronavirus patients would be named because the pandemic is a “contagious” and “notifiable” disease.
It also comes as the number of positive cases of the disease in the country continues to go up — now totalling 226 nationally, including four deaths and 29 recoveries.
In the meantime, and confusingly as the government moves to name people infected with the disease, the country’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations — under the Public Health Act — make it criminal to disclose anyone’s coronavirus status.
“We are going to be publicising the names. You (MPs) were asking why the names are not being publicised … is it because of confidentiality?
“We say Covid-19 is a contagious disease. It is a notifiable disease. So, everyone has to know who has the disease.
“Whoever has the disease must be made public. So, it is not like HIV which is a different category,” Moyo said in his parliamentary statement.
“This Covid-19 is a contagious disease which is notifiable. So, you will find very soon that we will be publicising the names.
“This is an issue which was also discussed in Cabinet yesterday (Tuesday). There is a need for us to publicise all those who are Covid-19 positive,” he added.
Despite this move, a Transport ministry employee appeared in court recently for allegedly disclosing the positive status of a Covid-19 patient in a Whatsapp group.
Jimmy Mhlanga, 40, appeared before Harare magistrate Barbra Mateko charged with contravening sections of the
Public Health Act, which criminalises disclosing information relating to one’s health status, treatment or stay in a health establishment.
He was granted $500 bail, ordered to continue residing at his current address and not to interfere with witnesses until the matter is finalised.
Health experts and human rights activists who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the planned move by the government would violate people’s privacy rights.
“Publishing the names of all those who are Covid-19 positive violates the privacy rights of concerned individuals and could lead to stigma and discrimination.
“The government should ensure that patient confidentiality is protected even as authorities take steps to identify those who may have been exposed to the virus,” Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, said.
The secretary-general of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA), Arron Musara, also said the plan to publicise the names of Covid-19 patients was problematic.
“I was not aware of this new development. If true, then there is a problem of stigma which may pose serious challenges.
“There have been attempts to burn some positive people alive in some countries, because of the wrong perception that they would have solved the coronavirus problem for good.
“Our country is not immune from such levels of stupidity. Patient confidentiality needs to be respected … Publishing names of infected non offenders stinks,” Musara told the Daily News.
The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), Fortune Nyamande, weighed in saying the move posed many challenges, including “a breach of the right to privacy and patient confidentiality”.
Meanwhile, Moyo also told Parliament on Wednesday that the government was still facing acute shortages of resources to conduct more Covid-19 tests.
He also lamented the increase in coronavirus cases in the country, adding that most people testing positive were returning residents.
“The number of extra returnees that we tested yielded a spike in the number of cases which shows that we were working within appropriate parameters.
“However, if we had the resources, we would want to test the whole nation. Everyone would be tested. But it is the resources that are limiting.
“There is a huge gap in our resource capability. Therefore, we end up doing the random and what is called hot spotting,” Moyo said.
He also revealed that currently all testing resources were being deployed to quarantine centres, to minimise further transmission — by detecting those that were positive at an early stage.
“Once identified as positive, the patients are quickly taken to our isolation facilities, depending on their status — whether they are moderate, mild to moderate and/or severe,” Moyo added.
He also said his ministry had received some funding from Treasury to acquire more testing kits, while development partners had also availed equipment.
“Currently, the country has been receiving commodities from development partners and the Africa Centre for Disease Control.
“The Government of Zimbabwe has also released funds and expedited procurement, and the commodities have started to be delivered.
“It is common knowledge that there is a huge competition for the commodities which are used for testing.
At the same time, commodities are being allocated to countries by risk of burden of the disease, hence the deliveries have been taking time as Zimbabwe is regarded as a low risk country,” Moyo said.
“The commodities have not been delivered in complete packages in some cases,” he added.
Zimbabwe is currently under an extended lockdown which authorities hope will help combat the spread of coronavirus in the country.
As part of fortifying the lockdown, the government has put in place several new regulations, which — among other things — criminalise public gatherings and the non-wearing of face masks in public.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, authorities barred tens of thousands of people from entering Harare’s CBD — creating chaos during the morning rush hour in the process.
This saw security being beefed up in the capital, with more police officers and soldiers visible in many places — as Covid-19 infections continue to rise in the country.
The heightened security in the capital — which caught many people by surprise — did not appear to have been extended to other urban areas, despite authorities saying this was merely part of efforts to ensure compliance with the national coronavirus lockdown.