Vusumuzi Dube and Robin Muchetu, Sunday News Reporters
BULAWAYO hospitals are experiencing a shortage of space in wards designated for Covid-19 as positive cases continue to soar in the city with Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital — a designated isolation centre, having patients sharing oxygen points.
According to a weekly Covid-19 update for the city, as of Friday, Thorngrove had 34 patients admitted to the hospital’s isolation wing against a bed capacity of 28. In an interview with Sunday News, the City Health Director, Dr Edwin Sibanda said the situation meant patients now had to share oxygen points, which he said was not ideal. He said the situation could be worse in the coming few days as United Bulawayo Hospital’s (UBH) Old Bartley Memorial was also fast filling up.
“Thorngrove has filled up because from a designated capacity of 28 beds we have 34 patients admitted, which has seen us now having patients sharing oxygen points, which in itself is far from being ideal. We are, however, making do with what we have as we noted that not all the patients can be on oxygen at the same time, therefore they can easily share. What is worrying is that UBH is also filling up, which if it happens will surely point to a crisis,” said Dr Sibanda.
According to the figures, UBH which has a designated capacity for Covid-19 patients of 42, had 40 patients on Friday. At UBH there are nine severe cases, with four patients in the Intensive Care Unit, according to Dr Sibanda.
Mpilo Central Hospital, with a bed capacity for Covid-19 patients of 32 has already admitted 14 patients, meaning they can only take in a further 18. At Elangeni Isolation Centre which takes in those who do not need hospitalisation, there are 34 patients admitted, with a bed capacity of 70, while at the Roman Catholic-owned Mater Dei hospital, with a bed capacity of 35, just nine people are admitted, although the private facility charges way above what the majority can afford.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care as of Friday the city had a number of suburbs classified as Covid-19 hotspots, with 819 active cases and six deaths recorded on that day. The city also had 39 new cases. Acting chief executive officer of Mpilo Central Hospital Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said they were receiving patients in large numbers although they were not a designated Covid-19 centre.
“At Mpilo we had a ward where we were housing persons under investigation for Covid-19 and we had no patients generally. Then we started having four to five patients but this week suddenly the numbers shot up to 20 patients in that ward. These are no longer patients under investigation. As we speak, we have got these infected people and we cannot take them to UBH or Thorngrove Hospital because those centres are saying they are full and cannot take any Covid-19 patients,” he said in an interview on Friday.
Prof Ngwenya said Mpilo was slowly becoming a Covid-19 centre but resources were bound to run out.
“We had to open a new ward to separate the positive cases and people under investigation. The situation is dire, we will be overrun,” Prof Ngwenya said.
He blamed complacency by the public for the recent spike in cases.
“Unfortunately, we were affected by complacency, we relaxed in the last wave, people didn’t see it coming. We lost the plot there. Parties, bars, and funerals were taking place and the infections got so bad,” he lamented.
Prof Ngwenya said two weeks ago, they got about eight people per day but last Thursday alone they got 36 people who were positive for Covid-19.
“These had come for treatment in the outpatient department. This means they will have used public transport, infecting others too,” he added.
The acting CEO of UBH Dr Narcissus Dzvanga said they were equally in a predicament.
“The oxygen is also available but the virus is very unpredictable. One day there are a few patients and the following day 10 patients come all at once. Our biggest challenge is linen, our laundry machine was never meant for such large numbers as we are seeing now. Both UBH and Arundel are using a small machine that was not meant for such volumes of linen such that it is always breaking down. It is down as we speak. We are outsourcing services as it is. It’s more of ancillary services that are needed.
“We may discharge some and then we think it’s quiet then suddenly 10 patients come at once. The other challenge is that of human resources, nurses that had been recruited versus the patients that are coming does not tally, we now need locum (relief) nurses that can help. The X-Ray department also cannot cope with the numbers of people requiring the service,” said Dr Dzvanga.
He said space to accommodate patients may be available but other resources should also be availed in order for all that space to be useful. According to figures from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, from last Sunday to yesterday, the country recorded 7 447 new cases with 134 deaths. Last Sunday the country recorded 11 deaths, Monday 13 deaths, Tuesday 12 deaths, Wednesday 28 deaths, Thursday 19 deaths, Friday 33 deaths and yesterday 18 deaths. In the week that ended, 26 June, the country recorded 4 390 new cases with 59 deaths.
Meanwhile, Government has banned all higher learning institutions from conducting face-to-face lectures following the rise of Covid-19 cases in some of the institutions. According to a circular to all principals of teachers’ colleges, polytechnics and industrial training colleges from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Professor Fanuel Tagwira said non-resident students have now been barred from attending physical classes.
“The ministry has noted with concern the increase in cases of Covid-19 recorded in our institutions, particularly the students in boarding as well as teaching and non-teaching staff. In this regard may you ensure that all students who test positive be isolated and all those who test negative or not yet confirmed should be quarantined at the institution, while non-resident students should stop coming into college. Henceforth, face-to-face lessons are hereby suspended with immediate effect,” reads the circular.
Prof Tagwira said teaching and learning has to continue online. On Thursday, Bulawayo Polytechnic put all students in their residency on isolation after three of them tested positive for Covid-19. The higher learning institution further barred off-campus students from coming to the institution so as to contain the outbreak.
According to an internal memorandum to lecturers, ancillary staff and students, the institution’s principal, Engineer Gilbert Mabasa said all resident students will isolate at the institution’s hostels.
“Following the testing positive of three resident students as of last night, the health authorities have advised that non-resident students stay at home while residents are tested to establish the extent of the positive cases. Resident students are to isolate in their hostels.
“There is a need for all staff members to be tested for a complete picture of the current situation. Accordingly, every non-resident student should be in self-isolation at home pending further instructions from the appropriate authorities,” read the memorandum.