Lawyers take govt to task over coronavirus

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ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have taken government to task on its state of preparedness, the number of health personnel who have been trained and measures that are being taken to track down people who arrived from high-risk nations and are possibly infected by coronavirus (Covid-19).

In a letter to the minister of Health and Child Care, Obadiah Moyo, ZLHR executive director Roselyn Hanzi said the government owes it to the nation to adequately inform citizens on the progress that has been made in preparations in the fight against coronavirus, which has since claimed a life in Zimbabwe.

With the country only having two national testing centres for coronavirus, ZLHR said there is need to decentralise from Harare and Bulawayo so that all beings who suspect infection have ready access to testing, screening and monitoring.

“There is need to establish satellite testing centres throughout the country. Currently, testing is restricted to Harare and Bulawayo and this poses challenges for those who may need to be tested but live outside or far away from these cities. Ideally, testing facilities should be available across all 60 district hospitals. At the very least, due to resource constraints, testing kits should be available at all the 10 provincial hospitals,” said Hanzi.

Since the government confirmed two cases of the virus on Saturday last week, information on the number of the people who have been tested remains sketchy and Hanzi said there is need for transparency on the part of the government so that the nation is adequately informed and stays alert.

“We have received reliable information that testing facilities are not readily available for all those who may suspect themselves to have contracted the virus. To this end, can you please advise us on what your indicators for testing are. We also expect you to make the indicators for testing that you are using to be made available to the public, so that all those who have these indicators present themselves at the testing facilities.

“We are extremely concerned that the testing has been very limited and the sample of people tested so far, who were 15 as at March 23, 2020 according to the update that has been provided on your official Twitter handle @MoHCCZim. We strongly believe that this may not be a good representation or an accurate assessment of the level of exposure of the Covid-19 in Zimbabwe. There is need to escalate testing and, in any event, extend this to all the people that have entered the country from Covid-19 hotspots to make sure that no case goes undetected.

“During the statement on March 23, the President of Zimbabwe said that the ports of entry were closed for passenger planes except cargo. He also indicated that only returning residents will be allowed to enter Zimbabwe. Flights from high-risk areas should have been suspended earlier in order to minimise the importation of the virus as much as possible. We are aware that some airlines have already suspended flights to and from Zimbabwe.

“While Zimbabwe has now recently imposed a travel ban, unlike other countries that did so earlier, the general population is at very high risk if no additional temporary measures are put in place to manage movement within the country of those that had already entered from high-risk areas. Your ministry must make recommendations to the Immigration Department and ministry of Home Affairs to trace all those that have arrived in the country from high risk areas, since the beginning of 2020,” said Hanzi.

With only two medical centres so far the only referral clinics in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, Hanzi said, the government should also come clean on the quarantine facilities, shortage of ventilators and availability of intensive care units.

“Kindly provide us with information on how many functional ventilators we have in the country, and what is being done to acquire more ventilators in the event that they will be needed to manage treatment of increased numbers of patients. What is being done to source more ventilators as these may be required in future … in line with the fact with the most severe cases of Covid-19 require Intensive Care Unit (ICU) facilities, there should be a proliferation of ICUs throughout the country to cover each district. If this is not possible, every regional hospital should have an ICU dedicated to Covid-19 patients,” said Hanzi.

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