The establishment of three facilities dedicated to treatment of Coronavirus Infectious Diseases-19 (Covid-19) cases opens up new possibilities.
Proposals have been made and arrangements are under way to transform St Anne’s Hospital in Harare, Ekusileni Medical Centre in Bulawayo and a hotel in Beitbridge into Covid-19 treatment centres.
Zimbabwe is gearing up preparations against the possibility of more infections in the country, and the three facilities have been suggested as likely sites for treatment of coronavirus cases.
Harare has had Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital as the major referral centre for suspected Covid-19 cases.
So, proposals for other sites outside the capital are a welcome development. It means suspected cases from other parts of the country will be dealt with closer to home than being referred all the way to Harare.
St Anne’s Hospital was closed in March 2016. However, once ready, it will have greater capacity than the other two centres.
Ekusileni Medical Centre in Bulawayo, although completed 17 years ago, has never operated as a medical facility. So, turning it into a Covid-19 treatment centre could set it on the road to full use in the post-Covid-19 era.
Initially the brainchild of the late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo, it was later handed over to the Government.
As a national project, the Government’s thinking was to transform it into a regional specialist centre of excellence, catering for people from all over the world.
The idea of opening it up as a Covid-19 treatment centre will breathe life into the centre and open up future possibilities.
There is still scope for ensuring it caters for patients from beyond Zimbabwe’s borders as well as countries beyond.
The Beitbridge Hotel — a 140-room facility costing US$22 million — was opened in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA World Soccer Cup, hosted by South Africa.
It was funded by the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) and entered a strategic partnership with the Rainbow Tourism Group. Unfortunately, the partnership collapsed and the facility has remained largely a white elephant. The decision to offer it as a centre for the treatment of suspected Covid-19 cases would see it coming to life again.
But it is what is expected to happen to the three facilities after coronavirus that could be a game changer.
An idea of how the transformed medical facilities could operate going forward lies in courting Diaspora investors, as well as external investors.
The proposition would be to set them up as privately-run or joint partnership world-class hospitals.
A cursory survey can establish the kind of conditions Zimbabweans are having to go abroad for treatment. This will inform the model to adopt and operate the three facilities under.
The hospitals could be operated by different players in the post-Covid-19 era and they could offer similar services or each facility could opt to specialise in a particular medical field.
While Zimbabwe has fine health institutions, often what they lack is state-of-the-art equipment and specialist surgeons.
Diaspora investment or external investors could come in handy in acquiring sophisticated equipment critical for performing complex medical procedures.
There are specialist surgeons locally, and evidence abounds of Zimbabwean medical doctors who have been collaborating with American medical universities, for example.
However, in cases where there is a skills deficit, the three facilities could opt for an arrangement where there could be visiting specialists from South Africa, India, the UK or the USA.
Having state-of-the-art facilities with capacity and expertise to conduct and perform complex medical procedures would have two-fold benefits. Such facilities would be available to locals and the cost of treatment would be considerably less than travelling abroad.
The facilities would represent a considerable saving on outflows of hard currency. But specifically, there would be potential for health tourism as nationals from the region would troop to Zimbabwe for treatment. The promoters of the St Anne’s Hospital project seem to have such an approach, judging from initial indications.
The sudden flurry of activities, which has resulted in stepped up production of medical requirements at CAPS Pharmaceuticals, coinciding with the national campaign against Covid-19 is propitious.
So, the launch of the three facilities could represent a game changer for the health sector in Zimbabwe.