WITH the continuously deteriorating situation in the public health sector, Zimbabweans are quaking in their boots with fear that the 2019 novel coronavirus could spread into the country.
The zoonatic virus, which originated in China last December, has so far killed over 560 people and affected 28 000 in 25 countries around the world.
While the situation keeps worsening, with scientists still trying to find a cure, Mbonisi Dube is worried that Zimbabweans may die like flies if the virus spreads into the country whose health system is tottering on the brink of collapse.
“If a developed country like China is struggling to contain the outbreak, I wonder how our health sector is going to handle this pandemic. Our hospitals do not have equipment and drugs. We can only hope and pray the virus does not get into the country, otherwise we will perish,” the 36-year-old vendor said.
Dube, like most Zimbabweans, has lost faith in the country’s public health system that has been marred by a series of shortages and industrial strikes over the years due to the unavailability of foreign currency.
Health and Childcare minister Obadiah Moyo has, however, said his ministry is prepared and adequately stocked with an antiretroviral, Kaletra, that has proven to be effective in managing the virus.
“There is a drug called Kaletra which has been found to be effective, although it’s not a permanent treatment. The luck that we have is that it’s an antiretroviral (ARV), and we are in a position to accumulate those as much as possible. We would not want tonnes of it because we are controlling people coming into the country.
“For now the quantities of the medicines that we have are adequate for the task. We are ready for the task; it’s an issue of monitoring at our ports. The infection is currently not in Zimbabwe and we would like to keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t. We have to sell as much awareness as possible to our population,” Moyo said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.
The 2019 novel coronavirus reportedly originated from bats and has been related to the Sars outbreak which killed 349 people in China in 2002.
As part of its efforts to prevent the virus from spreading into the country, the health ministry has been screening and monitoring travellers who have been to the affected countries for at least 14 days.
Travellers coming into the country are scanned by thermo-scanners to check if their temperatures are not high. Afterwards they are put under surveillance to check for symptoms that range from pneumonia, high fever, flu symptoms, shortness of breath and diarrhoea.
So far over 700 people are being monitored for the virus but, no cases have been recorded.
Even after the minister’s assurance, there are many doubts that the country, which is still struggling to eliminate medieval diseases such as cholera, will be able to deal with the new kid on the block.
Citizens’ fears are also cemented by the fact that senior medical practitioners are doubting that the country has made enough preparations for the deadly respiratory disease.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said it feels the government is not doing enough to prevent the disease from spreading into the country.
The doctors’ organisation has urged the relevant arms of government to enforce adequate surveillance measures at all ports of entry into the country.
“Such mechanisms must be in place to diagnose suspected patients, provide treatment facilities which minimise further spread to others and/or health workers and to do contact tracing for all suspected cases.
“Active surveillance, prompt diagnosis and effective treatment of infected individuals have shown to be the mainstay of containing outbreaks of such nature. This calls for health workers to be mobilised, trained, equipped and well protected to deal with any suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus,” ZADHR said in a statement.
At the same time, Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) president Shingai Nyaguse recently told the Health and Childcare parliamentary portfolio committee that should any cases occur at the moment, the country’s laboratories will not be able to diagnose the coronavirus.
“In terms of the coronavirus, our laboratories are not yet at a stage of testing, because it has been declared a public health emergency of international concern the World Health Organisation (WHO) will now be taking samples of suspected cases to South Africa.
“We just hope our infectious disease hospitals are prepared with oxygen to deal with patients,” Nyaguse said.
Minister Moyo has said the government has part of the equipment needed to diagnose the virus, but does not have test kits which are key in the process.
Dube told the Daily News on Sunday that it is difficult to have confidence in what the Health ministry is saying because Zimbabwe “is too dependent on other countries for health support”.
“As we speak, the elite are getting medical attention outside the country, for instance in China and India. As ordinary Zimbabweans, how are we supposed to entrust our lives in a system that is crumbling like ours! If we cannot diagnose the virus, surely treating is nearly impossible,” the vendor said.
Epidemiology and disease control director Portia Manangazira said it was a recommendation from WHO that samples should be taken to South Africa should any cases occur.
“Zimbabwe has no samples to be sent for testing at the moment, but should any cases occur, samples will be sent to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) regional lab in South Africa for diagnosis,” she said.
WHO recently declared the novel coronavirus an international emergency in a bid to protect countries with weaker health systems from contracting it.
The United Nations organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries must now all come together to limit the spread of the deadly disease.
“We do not know what this damage could do if it were to spread to a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility. For all these reasons, I’m declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
“The reason is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” Ghebreyesus said.