BY VANESSA GONYE
THE year 2021 started badly for the country’s overstretched health sector as the country battled a deadly second wave of COVID-19.
COVID-19 cases and fatalities only climbed down in March 2021, a situation that saw President Emmerson Mnangagwa relaxing most lockdown restrictions.
A month earlier, the country had embarked on a vaccination drive after receiving 200 000 doses of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine donated by the Chinese government.
Winter saw the emergence of a COVID-19 third wave which was equally as devastating as the second, and lasted till September.
In November, a new COVID-19 Omicron variant was detected in South Africa and Botswana, a development that saw travel restrictions being imposed on southern Africa, Zimbabwe included. The variant has been detected in the country and is behind a rising fourth wave.
In spite of all this, the country soldiered on, registering significant progress, particularly on the vaccination front despite earlier hesitancy.
Below is the health sector in retrospect, with input from heads of various areas in the health sector.
Bernard Madzima, National Aids Council chief executive:
NAC’s mandate is to co-ordinate a multi-sectoral response to HIV and Aids programmes in Zimbabwe. NAC is also responsible for other prevention programmes especially in the sexual reproductive health and the non-communicable diseases areas with a special emphasis on cancers particularly cervical cancer and other reproductive health cancers.
NAC, just like everyone else, operating in an era of COVID-19, has tried to be innovative and to adjust to the new normal of COVID-19 restrictions. This calls for it to look at its programmes, especially co-ordinating meetings where we were used to gathering people in the communities having health awareness programmes and various other preventive models which required people to be gathered and NAC has had to observe COVID-19 rules and regulations.
Nonetheless, I think we have adapted, if you look at our 2021 activities, in terms of achievement, we have done well in the area of prevention, we have done well in the area of supportive treatment and care.
We have done well in the areas of advocacy and communication; we have done well in all areas in the aspect of implementing our projects. As we look at our resources against implementation, we have been on track in most programmes.
We think 2021 has been a success given the circumstances. We have also supported the ministry in the fight against COVID-19 by procuring PPE (personal protective equipment). As I speak we have procured 200 oxygen concentrators for the Health and Child Care ministry for use in the clinics and hospitals as the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic. NAC is there in the mix making sure that we fight both COVID-19 and HIV and also we want to fight inequalities and make sure that everyone has access to good health. This is the only way we can end these pandemics.
Itai Rusike, Community Working Group on Health executive director:
Zimbabwe needs to be commended for the good progress it has made with its COVID-19 national vaccination roll-out programme but there is urgent need to address the issues of vaccine equity, vaccine literacy, vaccine hesitancy so that we can increase vaccine uptake and accelerate towards achieving the required herd immunity.
The essential health services in Zimbabwe has experienced significant disruptions due to COVID-19 with the health system still falling far short of adequately addressing the high burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Suffice to say the pandemic has really exposed the human costs of fragile health systems and precarious safety nets. A case in point is the high levels of community and institutional deaths, indicating poor access to comprehensive health services and possibly also poor quality of services to those accessing both public and private health services.
It is very unfortunate and quite sad to see our experienced and highly qualified health professionals resigning in high numbers, packing their bags and leaving the country to benefit other nationals without any compensation to the country for the taxpayers money that was used for their training mainly because of our failure to value and appreciate our own healthcare workers by paying them decent salaries and according them good conditions of services.
We see the COVID-19 pandemic and the national response to it so far as both huge challenges but also opportunities for restoring an effective, efficient and resilient health system accessibility to all nationals as an essential part of primary healthcare and leading to universal health coverage and the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals and the country’s Agenda 2030 development goals.
Wenceslas Nyamayaro, director, Non-Communicable diseases, Health and Child Care ministry:
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected more members of the community suffering from non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The ministry concentrated on bringing awareness to this challenge; hence awareness campaigns, were carried out through various platforms.
Commemoration days were held successfully, ie mental health day, diabetes day, breast cancer week, child cancer day.
The Honourable Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga has been on the forefront supporting most of these commemorations.
The World Health Organisation PEN supported project is going on very well in Mashonaland Central, two other Districts in Mashonaland East are yet to start, however, resources have been available.
ln Masvingo this project is going on very well being implemented by a donor, SolidarMed in one of the districts.
Also, First Lady Mai Auxillia Mnangagwa has done a lot as our ambassador to bring awareness on NCDs during her meet-the-community tours.
The department has finalised oncology treatment guidelines and we have started working on the NCD strategy and policy, eye strategy awaits printing.
Cervical cancer screening is continuing despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are pleased that the ministry of finance is setting aside funds to support NCDs from SIN taxes.
Tendayi Westerhof, NAC board member representing people living with HIV and national co-ordinator of the Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition Zimbabwe (PAPWC-Zim):
PAPWC-Zim is a national network of women living with HIV.
2021 was a challenging year for us as women living with HIV. In 2021 we responded to various needs for women living with HIV and our response was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic where we had to change our way of doing things, resorting to mostly virtual meetings and virtual discussions where we produced e-bulletins.
We managed to hold capacity-building workshops for women living with HIV.
As PAPWC-Zim, I would like to say this was a very good year for us in terms of visibility. We also got a lot of support from almost all the media houses in Zimbabwe.
They wrote articles amplifying voices of women living with HIV, the various challenges that we face and the work that we are doing on the ground.
However, when we look at the health sector, as an Aids service organisation, we do not operate in isolation we also operate in the national response, there were challenges, for example, there were members who were also affected by COVID-19 and it also affected our programming, we also got affected.
As we are looking towards the new year we hope we will carry on with our supporters and our funders in the new year to ensure that we strengthen our work.