BY MOSES MUGUGUNYEKI
Chitungwiza is battling to manage the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that is looming large in this populous town amid reports that there is no specific health facility to treat the respiratory disease.
A health facility that the local authority had set aside last year as a Covid-19 isolation centre is lying idle after work to transform it into a treatment hub was stalled due to lack of funds.
However, investigations carried out by this publication in June revealed that the project died a natural death due to embezzlement of funds.
Early last year Chitungwiza Municipality announced that it was transforming Seke South Clinic in Unit L to a 45-bed Covid-19 treatment hub.
The council said it would transfer health care services from Seke South Clinic to Seke North (Makoni) and Zengeza clinics to pave way for renovations.
Then acting town clerk Tonderai Kasu, who is also the council’s director of health services, said the isolation centre would have a five-bed intensive care unit (ICU) and the nearby Seke South Community Hall (Unit L) was going to be transformed into a 100-bed temporary medical facility to house patients in case of overwhelming numbers.
Kasu also indicated that Unit L Seke South Community Hall and Tatenda Tavern in Unit H would be transformed into Covid-19 isolation centres in case of overwhelming numbers.
The move was seen as a major boost for Chitungwiza’s health care system whose population of more than one million people rely on four council clinics, namely St Mary’s, Zengeza, Seke South and Seke North as well as Chitungwiza Central Hospital.
However, a year down the line, the mooted isolation centres are lying idle after work to transform Seke South Clinic into a treatment hub was unceremoniously stalled late last year.
General health services are still suspended and the clinic only serves emergencies, maternity and lately as a Covid-19 vaccination point.
Council officials said renovations at Seke South Clinic were stalled because the resources fell short in terms of equipping the centre and transforming it to meet the standards of a Covid-19 isolation centre.
They said the total transformation of the clinic now requires $48 million, funding that the cash-strapped local authority is struggling to raise.
This has left the Covid-19 response programme in jeopardy as the disease graph is looking northwards over the past few weeks.
As of Friday, Chitungwiza had recorded 2 719 positive cases of Covid-19 while 83 people have died since the outbreak of the disease last year.
However, the figures could be high as the council is only testing patients and people, who got into contact with Covid-19 patients.
The first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic spared the town, which is prone to health emergencies, but recent developments point to another catastrophe.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 98 596 cases of cholera and 4 369 deaths were reported, making it the largest outbreak of cholera ever recorded in the country.
The outbreak had started in Chitungwiza and according to a survey carried out by this publication, the town of nearly 1,5 million people could be sitting on a Covid-19 time bomb.
Overcrowding at market places such as Zengeza 2 shopping centre, Chigovanyika and Huruyadzo shopping centres in St Mary’s and Jambanja in Unit M are the order of the day.
“There is no order in Chitungwiza. People are dying and we still see people overcrowding in the name of hustling, without face masks and social-distancing,” said a resident, Robert Ruredzo.
Ruredzo said lately there had been an increase in the number of deaths in the town, some which could have been avoided had they been an isolation and treatment centre.
“Many people, who are dying cannot raise money to go to Harare for Covid-19 treatment.
“The other thing is that specific Covid-19 treatment centres in Harare are also overwhelmed.
“Chitungwiza with its population should have established at least four treatment centres,” he said.
“There are a lot of deaths occurring in the hood, some of which could have been avoided.
“The authorities relaxed after the first wave and thought the disease was gone and slept on duty. That decision is coming back to haunt us.”
Chitungwiza Progressive Resident Association director Admire Zaya said for long residents have been overlooked when it comes to developmental programmes in the town.
“We know very little about the Covid-19 isolation centre. Council was working on its own on the project and when money was not coming, they decided to come out into the open,” Zaya said.
Zengeza West MP Job Sikhala said as community leaders, they had started mobilising resources to support the establishment of an isolation centre.
“We have been discussing it with my other colleagues to see what we can do as a community to raise this issue and strategise on how to deal with it,” Sikhala said.
“We are engaging important stakeholders and see how we can identify some place for the facility.
“Chitungwiza Municipality is the one with facilities such as clinics. It has an important role to play.”
Kasu said an assessment of the Covid-19 isolation facility was undertaken by the Public Works department in the Local Government ministry, which revealed that an additional $48 million was required to complete the renovations.
“It is important for this additional funding to be raised as soon as possible so that when there is another wave of Covid-19 infections, we will be able to hospitalise and treat patients,” he said.
“I would like to take this opportunity to once again appeal, as I have been doing all along, to central government, the private sector, donors, development partners and our many stakeholders, for this additional funding.”
Kasu said the Covid-19 response programme in Chitungwiza was hamstrung by shortage of manpower.
“The response to the vaccination campaign has been good, but as Chitungwiza Municipality Health department, we remain short-staffed and under-resourced,” Kasu said.
“As always, I call upon government and our stakeholders to offer and give financial and moral support to our health staff and the department, so that we can be able to attract and retain skilled health professionals.”
About 31 102 people have received first doses of Covid-19 vaccines in Chitungwiza while 14 210 got their second doses as of Friday.
Chitungwiza mayor Lovemore Maiko urged residents to abide by the Covid-19 regulations and take the vaccination programme seriously.