BY MOSES MATENGA/MOSES MUGUGUNYEKI
DOCTORS yesterday reacted with alarm and anger over allegations by Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana that some medical practitioners were deliberately killing Zanu PF politicians and hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ministers Sibusiso Moyo (Foreign Affairs), Joel Biggie Matiza (Transport) and Ellen Gwaradzimba (Manicaland Provincial Affairs) were among other senior party and liberation war stalwarts who died from complications related to the virus and Mangwana claimed on Twitter yesterday that doctors had
become “medical assassins,” and that they were hiding behind their medical profession.
Most of the now-deceased ministers were admitted at local private hospitals before they succumbed to the respiratory virus and Mangwana alleged that some doctors were acting like “mini Josef Mengele”, a Nazi officer and physician, by threatening to withdraw oxygen based on the political party that one supported.
Mengele performed medical experiments at the Auschwitz death camps during World War II.
“I followed that. This is what’s leading to the unfortunate conspiracy theory that there are certain political players being eliminated in hospitals by political activists hiding behind medical qualifications,” Mangwana said in his response.
“In fact, not just political players, but medical assassins,” he said.
His comments irked doctors and observers who immediately called him to order, accusing him of stoking tensions at a time the country is struggling to contain the pandemic.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) described the branding of doctors as “medical assassins” by a government spokesperson as irresponsible, adding that this could escalate tensions in the health sector.
They also said there were threats of arrests and deregistration of medical practitioners who were alleged to have communicated “unethical” statements on social media.
“ZADHR strongly advises against continuous persecution of health care professionals. Cases of alleged medical misconduct, if any, must always be handled by the appropriate medical regulatory bodies,” the rights doctors said.
“Furthermore, we advise that the continuous persecution of medical practitioners is likely to destabilise the health sector during this time when the nation is supposed to be focusing on resolving the COVID-19 crisis.”
Earlier, ZADHR executive director Calvin Fambirai said: “Peddling such conspiracy theories is indecorous and has dangerous public health consequences. It reduces confidence among patients to seek services for COVID-19 and also reduces the motivation of frontline workers who are working under difficult circumstances to deal with the pandemic.
“Besides, healthcare workers have been going all out in fighting the pandemic under these difficult circumstances.”
The Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe, an inclusive body that includes nurses, medical doctors, dental therapists, dentists and laboratory scientists among others, described Mangwana’s comments as worrisome.
“We as private practitioners, note with concern the social media rants which seem to point out that there are numerous doctors that may be involved in the deaths of some individuals,” the association’s president Johannes Marisa said.
“The accusations are quite unfortunate and worrisome at this juncture when every health worker has tightened their belts in the midst of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. The world is quivering because of the deadly virus, so we call upon everyone to refrain from inflammatory talk that has potential to demoralise the resilient front liners who are obviously working very hard to contain and mitigate against the virus.”
The country is battling a second wave of the coronavirus and statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care show that the virus has been rapidly spreading.
As at yesterday morning, the number of cumulative COVID-19 infections had soared to 31 007, with a total of 974 deaths, and 21 377 recoveries.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches secretary-general Kenneth Mtata also rubbished the claims that doctors were using COVID-19 to kill people.
“We are already struggling with mistrust and lack of confidence in many key institutions. If someone suggests that doctors are deliberately killing people using COVID-19, then the nation has gone to the dogs,” Mtata said.
Human rights defender Dewa Mavhinga described Mangwana’s accusations as “wild and dangerous”.
“Authorities refuse to face the grim reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they now make wild and dangerous claims that political players are victims of medical assassins. This is utter rubbish, and very dangerous coming from a government spokesperson,” he said.
Meanwhile, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) urged political parties to iron out their differences and work together to fight the common enemy, COVID-19.
NPRC commissioner Charles Masunungure said the ruling Zanu PF party, and the opposition should put their differences aside and work together to confront the pandemic that is ravaging the country and killing a number of Zimbabweans.
“This is time to put ruling party or opposition party politics aside, and put our heads together as citizens, build consensus, brainstorm and fight the common enemy COVID-19 in our midst,” Masunungure said.
“Even wild animals stop fighting when facing an intruding enemy. Ceasefire politicians,” he said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his MDC Alliance counterpart Nelson Chamisa at the weekend both called for unity in the country to fight the second wave of the pandemic which is said to be the deadlier.
Critics accuse the Zanu PF leader of using the COVID-19 pandemic to close democratic space after arrests of opposition MDC Alliance party vice-president Tendai Biti, spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, vice-chairperson Job Sikhala and Harare mayor Jacob Mafume.