Vivian Mugarisi and Debra Matabvu
GOVERNMENT is procuring more personal protective equipment (PPE) and undertaking extensive training of healthcare workers to effectively use available gear to curb the spread of Covid-19 within the health workforce.
This comes as 323 health workers have contracted Covid-19 since the beginning of the outbreak in March as local infections continue to rocket.
Chief Co-ordinator for the National Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, said coronavirus infections among Zimbabwean health workers, while worrying, were still within manageable levels.
“Every time we have a healthcare worker infected, it is of great concern to us, so we continue to prioritise them at all times by procuring more PPEs,” said Dr Mahomva.
“We are, however, looking at how the little PPE available is being utilised. We have noticed that sometimes it’s not being used appropriately, for example, you don’t need someone wearing a suit from top to bottom checking temperature at the gate.
“So we are also providing that training and sensitisation to ensure that the little that is available is used appropriately in the right places.”
Government is taking the Covid-19 fight to the communities, with over 7 000 households in different parts of the country set to get tested for Covid-19 beginning next week in an effort to assess the extent to which the pandemic has spread in the country.
Dr Mahomva said while some infections were occurring within healthcare institutions, the approach by communities towards the pandemic has contributed to the increase in healthcare workers testing positive for Covid-19.
“Often, people think that health workers are getting it within institutions but it’s also very possible that they are getting it out there where they live, so we look at the response in a more comprehensive way to ensure that all preventative measures are put in place.
“If you walk around, Zimbabweans in general seem to think that it won’t affect them and these same people are teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers walking in the street. This means you can take it to your workplace,” she said.
Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Gibson Mhlanga said while no fatalities had been recorded so far, testing of health workers and provision of PPE was critical to ensure that numbers remain low.
“It is unfortunate that we are having health workers being infected by Covid-19. These are critical in dealing with the rising number of cases being reported countrywide,” he said.
“So far 323 health workers have tested positive in Zimbabwe since the beginning of the outbreak, luckily no deaths have been reported among these health workers.
“Of these, nurses are the most affected, constituting 168 and doctors 16. Other affected health workers include people working in pharmacies, accounts, general hands working in the cleaning services as well as drivers ferrying patients. These healthcare workers need PPEs at all times,” added Dr Mhlanga.
Between June 9 and July 25, 70 health workers had tested positive for Covid-19 at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, 64 of them being those who work in general wards while six work in the Covid-19 centre.
The hospital also noted community deaths, where 13 corpses that were brought in dead tested positive. This has seen health experts call for increased testing for a quickened pace towards flattening the curve.
The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) will this week begin household registration with testing following thereafter.
Government plans to screen 7 225 households in all 54 districts and the country’s two metropolitan provinces. Of these households, 4 625 will be in the rural areas.
Director of the National Institute of Health in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Professor Nicholas Midzi, said the tests seek to find the best interventions to curb the disease at community level.
“The tests will inform authorities on the extent to which Covid-19 has spread, the high and low transmission areas as well the necessary interventions for each area,” he said.
“Only one individual will be tested per household and we will target all age groups from two years. ZimStat will start with household registration this coming week while training of health workers and tests will commence a week after.
“We will determine the presence of Covid-19 through testing of the antibodies with further tests set to be administered to confirm the first tests.”
The sample tests will be done within 30 days with 289 selected areas countrywide set to be covered.
Harare Metropolitan Province will have the largest number (50) with 48 of these areas being in urban areas while two are rural.
Ministry of Health and Child Care Epidemiology and Disease Control director Dr Portia Manangazira said Government had identified hotspots which will be prioritised in the survey.
The hotspots include border communities, communities near isolation, quarantine centres and major highways.
She also said 200 community workers had been recruited to complement the work of health workers.
“We have started training community workers based in Mashonaland and Matabeleland, who will be working with the health workers,” Dr Manangazira added.
“We also are closely monitoring hotspots which have been identified which will inform on the measures to be implemented in the areas.”
Zimbabwe has been recording a surge in Covid-19 cases over the past weeks with an increase witnessed in local transmissions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in March warned that disruption to the global supply of PPE due to rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse was putting lives at risk from Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, particularly frontline workers.
In South Africa, more than 3 500 health professionals have been infected by the novel coronavirus according to the country’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, with 34 fatalities having been recorded so far.
Kenya has seen 257 infections among healthcare workers while Ghana has recorded over 2 000.
Zimbabwe recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus disease on March 20 with Government swiftly enforcing a 21-day lockdown to control the spread of the deadly virus 10 days later.
To date, the country had recorded 2 434 confirmed cases and 34 deaths from over 100 000 tests.