By Everson Mushava
The government, World Health Organisation and numerous other stakeholders are hailing Covid-19 isolation centres as a vital tool to contain the coronavirus pandemic, but it is not all rosy inside the camps, as testimony by one of the inmates reveals.
Last week, the cumulative tally for positive Covid-19 cases made an unprecedented jump from 56 to 160.
Government said almost all the cases were recorded among quarantined returnees from South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana.
Agnes Parwada (25) from Zaka in Masvingo province is among those cases, having recently decided to return home from Botswana where she had gone to look for employment. She realised that jobs were hard to get because of the lockdown in that country.
She has been part of a 400-plus group of returnees housed at the Masvingo Teachers’ College and last Tuesday was announced as one of the 12 inmates that had tested positive, a development that has left her confused and emotionally drained.
Parwada, who The Standard tracked down on Friday and yesterday said she was not feeling sick, but was facing trauma due to the manner in which her case was handled, the stigma and rejection she and others that were said to have tested positive are subjected to, and the uncertainty that is already haunting her.
“I am in pain. Not because I am sick, but because I feel rejected. We have been handled painfully from the day we tested positive,” Parwada said.
“It has been a traumatic experience and the faint-hearted would consider suicide as the only option.”
Parwada got the news that she tested positive for coronavirus by mere word of mouth, and she as well as the others were never shown their results.
But, prior to the shocking announcement of the results, she and those that had been tested freely mixed and mingled with the scores that were never tested, hardly observing social distancing or wearing masks.
“When we arrived on May 8, tests were conducted on us,” she said.
“They took our blood for testing, but we never got the results.
“Others were not tested and we [the tested and untested] continued to live as a community, sharing items like plates, cups and spoons.”
A week after, she and another selected group were re-tested.
On May 26, officials from the Health ministry came to the college in the company of two doctors and ordered everyone back into their hostels.
That was when Parwada and 11 others — seven women and five men — were informed they had tested positive. Again, they were not shown the results, Parwada testified.
“We were just told we were positive, but not shown the results,” she said, wondering which of the two tests had produced the positive results.
“This was the turning point.
“The doctors and the other health officials were rude to us when we wanted to ask questions, only insisting that we should simply know that we are positive.
“I vividly remember one of the doctors saying to us: ‘You have coronavirus, you are dangerous to others.
“That statement was like a needle pricking our hearts. I remember very well that one of the men wanted to commit suicide.
“After the announcement of the results, no one in the hostels wanted to get close to us.
“We did not go to the canteen that day because we were being shunned. We started feeling rejected and lonely,” said Parwada.
The following day — Wednesday — was worse for Parwada and she ended up feeling like a criminal, she said.
“A team of police officers accompanied by soldiers came and took eight of us comprising five adults and three kids to Rujeko Clinic [in Masvingo],” she said.
The children belonged to one of the seven women, who had been pronounced positive.
“We were made to spend two hours outside the clinic in the cold weather.
“Just after 11pm, we were ushered into a room with seven beds and that has been our new home since then,” said Parwada.
They were not given any food on that day.
Under unclear circumstances, she said, all the men and two women who had been pronounced positive together with her were left behind at the college, where they remained.
“I don’t know why they were left behind.
“On Thursday, we only got our first meal at 1pm comprising cold tea and cold sadza.
“We never got anything [on Wednesday] and we went to bed on empty stomachs. We had another meal at 1pm the following day,” she said.
Some residents who stay close to the clinic pitied them and “gave us four drinks and four packets of maputi” on Thursday.
On Friday, Parwada said, health officials brought them bread and drinks at lunch time.
“One of the doctors, [whose name is] Makurira, found the children crying due to hunger and pitied us.
“Later, he bought us a 2kg packet of chicken, cabbage and salt,” she said.
But they had no utensils, so residents provided them with pots and plates.
Word of their plight must have spread among the locals and beyond quickly because, on Friday, a relative of one of them came and took her and the children from the clinic without the authorities noticing.
They came as Parwada and her colleagues were preparing supper.
The authorities are stigmatising them, she said.
“Imagine, today [Saturday] one woman came and wanted to get in to assist.
“We heard her being told by a female police officer: ‘Unozadzwa corona [They will infect you with coronavirus]. She was turned away,” she added.
“We have two pregnant women among us.
“One is three months’ pregnant and the other one is eight months’ pregnant and has a three-year-old baby. Imagine them also going for a whole day without food,” she said.
“None of us here is sick or showing any signs of being sick. I only had a headache caused by the things they pushed into my nose while taking swabs,” Parwada said.
They are doubting the results that they were finally given because of the anomalies on the forms.
“In fact, I doubt if any of us here is positive.
“The result slips they later showed us had information different from the ones we supplied them with.
“In one of the cases, the only correct information on the slip is that she is female. “The rest is wrong.
“On mine, the name is fine, but the date and year of birth are wrong. I am sure these are not our results,” she said.
Some of the people whom she is sharing a ward with at Rujeko Clinic returned from South Africa where they had gone to buy goods for resale in Masvingo, but were affected by that country’s lockdown so they had no choice, but to return and face quarantine.
“Some of them have left their children under the care of relatives with little food.
“We have been in isolation for 20 days now and we were told we would be quarantined for 21 more days.
“The others will not be able to see their children and don’t even know how they are surviving,” she said.
Agnes Mahomva, the chief national Covid-19 response coordinator, said the Health ministry was responsible for the management of the isolation centres while the Social Welfare ministry took care of the returnees’ needs.
Mahomva said she would need more details on the Masvingo case, referring questions to the acting permanent secretary in the Health ministry, Gibson Mhlanga, who was not picking calls.
Simon Masanga, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, expressed disbelief over Parwada’s story.
“I cannot comment, but I doubt if anything like that can ever happen,” Masanga said.
He referred questions to the social welfare provincial head for Masvingo Stansilus Sanyangone, who refused to comment saying he needed clearance first.