BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
Eleven-year-old Onesimo Dube from rural Nkayi in Matebeleland North has a heart condition that makes it difficult for her to breathe.
Of late, Dube’s parents have been struggling to access health care services because of the ongoing national lockdown.
Her heart condition, according to her widowed mother Emma Dlomo, has forced her daughter to drop out of school as the condition has been worsening since the age of eight.
Dlomo said her daughter’s breathing problems were diagnosed at Mpilo Central Hospital upon birth in 2010, but she could not get proper treatment.
Doctors said she had a small heart — an ailment which affects breathing.
“They sent me to Bulawayo from Nkayi District Hospital during labour.
“She couldn’t breathe properly, and the doctors said I should organise funds to take her to India or South Africa for heart surgery,” said Dlomo.
“I have been managing her condition with some pills to prevent clotting and infection around her heart. But because of this lockdown, I could not take her to hospital for assessment and collect her monthly prescriptions. Her condition keeps worsening.”
Dlomo said her daughter’s condition had not only forced her to drop out of school, but has also made it difficult for her to mingle with other children as she is often ill.
“I tried to take her to the main hospital in Nkayi a fortnight ago, but we could not get a bus or lifts, so I have resorted to traditional concoctions,” she said.
Dlomo, who is unemployed, fears her daughter will not make it, particularly on days when she has multiple convulsions.
Besides Covid-19-induced restrictions and poor access to hospitals, the health facilities hardly have medication for Dube’s condition.
Dube is in a dire situation, but she is not alone.
Seven-month-old Dumiso Sibanda from Singwangombe village, also in Nkayi, has a similar heart condition to Dlomo’s daughter and has received no medical care.
His teenage mother, Portia Ndlovu (15), says her son often struggles to breathe.
“I started noticing this problem when he was born, but because I delivered from home due to lockdown restrictions, I could not take him to hospital for immunisation until September when I went to our local clinic where they immunised him before advising me to take him to the main hospital in Nkayi for a heart check-up,” she said.
Ndlovu’s son, because of the condition, is underweight.
“He hardly feeds and often cries, especially when he is breastfeeding. He is underweight and l have no supplements,” she said.
“So I am just hoping that once the lockdown restrictions are reduced and buses become available, I may be able to take him to hospital for examination.”
According to a recent report by the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency, together with the World Bank and Unicef, on socio-economic effects of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe, most of the urban and rural population in the country has had no access to health.
The report noted that 50% of the respondents said they could not get medical treatment between April and November last year.
The majority cited lack of money as the reason for being unable to get medical treatment. In rural areas, a tenth of those unable to get medical treatment cited lack of medical personnel as the reason.
Norman Matara, a public health expert, said the Covid-19 pandemic had drastically reduced the availability and quality of health services at most public and private institutions.
“For example, patients with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular conditions have been reported to be missing their routine appointments for medical checkups,” Matara said.
“Some health institutions are insisting on Covid-19 test results before admissions, resulting in limited access to services among patients who do not have adequate finances.
“The health system has not been spared either as human resources and supply chains for medical sundries are to be reallocated to the increasing disease burden posed by Covid-19.”
To counter the challenge, Matabeleland North Province medical director Munekayi Padingani said they were planning to conduct integrated services for patients with chronic illnesses at ward level.
“Right now, we have no funding, but what we have been doing are visits of our patients within their communities for them to get examined at the time of lockdown,” Padingani said.
“We send teams to meet these people at various places even in schools and we have managed to help the majority of them, but for now the issue of funding has been a stumbling block.”
On expecting mothers, Padingani said they needed to arrange transport to camp in their respective delivery health centres weeks early.
“They need close monitoring, so we would like to urge them to visit our district’s main dormitories before going into labour for their safety and their unborn baby’s life,” he said.
According to the latest World Health Organisation data published in 2018, coronary heart disease deaths in Zimbabwe reached 5 896 or 4.96% of total deaths.
Matara urged the government to ensure continuity of quality care to all patients with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma or epilepsy during this pandemic.
He also said adequate infection prevention and control mechanisms should also be in place to ensure minimal transmission of Covid-19 to these patient sub-groups during visits to health institutions.
*This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a non-profit news organisation that produces hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting and analysis for the southwestern region of Matabeleland.