BY RICHARD MUPONDE/ LORRAINE MUROMO/PHYLLIS MBANJE/HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
ZIMBABWE’s COVID-19 dilemma is likely to escalate if serious precautions to prevent its further spread are not taken, with official statistics yesterday revealing that one person is dying every hour in the country due to the respiratory disease, health experts have said.
Currently, the daily infection rate has reached the 1 000 mark, as the second wave of COVID-19 ravages the country.
Statistics by the Health and Child Care ministry on Wednesday showed that on the day, the country recorded 38 new deaths and 1 017 new infections.
This took the death tally to 589 and total infections to 24 256.
The recovery rate has plummeted to 56,3% from around 94% early November 2020, and the positivity rate is 29%, and 10 000 active cases.
As the virus spreads, reports yesterday by the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association (MDPPZA) warned that hospitals were running out of oxygen due to an increased demand.
“With this wave, demand for oxygen is on the rise since most of the COVID-19 patients are suffering from shortness of breath. We are losing many patients due to shortages of oxygen,” MDPPZA president Johannes Marisa told NewsDay yesterday.
Another health expert and Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer, Solwayo Ngwenya, said the figures by the Health ministry were “controlled”, adding that more people than those recorded could actually be dying from the coronavirus.
“The Zimbabwean figures are controlled, and so we are only commenting on a figure that has been published. There are many people who are dying of COVID-19 and some of them are said to be negative because we are using a narrow diagnostic criteria, whereby you are only recorded if you are PCR [polymerase chain reaction] positive or RTA positive,” Ngwenya said.
“There are people with clear signs and symptoms and also radiological x-rays that show they are positive, but they are not recorded. From the official figures published yesterday (Thursday) of 38 deaths in 24 hours, that actually shows you that at least one person is dying every hour,” he said.
Ngwenya said partying and the opening up of borders without strict measures during the festive season could have worsened the COVID-19 situation
“We are yet to see the worst to come from this virus. Disaster is looming. People must keep safe or else we are going to see a lot of tears, burials, families losing breadwinners, businesses closed, and other terrible things ahead,” he said.
“People must follow the advice of social distancing and masking up, as well as avoiding crowded places and organising illegal parties.”
The sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 infections came as government disclosed plans to craft a vaccination policy to deal with the pandemic.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said that in order for the COVID-19 vaccination policy to work effectively, the government and other relevant stakeholders should provide it for free, especially to the most vulnerable groups.
ZADHR executive director Calvin Fambirai said government needed to be orderly in rolling out its vaccine.
“ZADHR implores the government to urgently outline its vaccine roll out and distribution plan. We further call upon the Ministry of Health to guarantee that it will make efforts to ensure the availability of a safe, effective and free vaccine to most Zimbabweans and the tenets of equity will be applied to prioritise high risk and vulnerable groups,” Fambirai said in a statement.
“To prepare for the vaccine, there is a need to revamp the health system infrastructure such as cold chain facilities in hospitals and clinics, training of health workers and putting in place necessary logistical support needed for an enormous vaccination campaign targeting millions of Zimbabweans.”
As ZADHR emphasised on the need for adequate health infrastructure in order to deal with the pandemic, some of the country’s top health institutions closed some of their facilities.
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals yesterday said it had suspended chemotherapy sessions for cancer patients because COVID-19 infection among its staff had spiralled out of control.
“We would like to advise our patients on chemotherapy and the general public that our radiotherapy centre is not being spared by the effects of COVID-19,” the hospital said in a statement.
“We are having some staff members and patients being affected and this is posing serious risks to the department.”
The hospital said its specialists had warned that it would be dangerous to administer chemotherapy to COVID-19-infected patients, or placing a patient on chemotherapy machines, only for them to get infected by the coronavirus.
Chitungwiza Municipality-owned St Marys Clinic also closed its operations due to a surge in infections.
In a statement, the Chitungwiza town clerk Tonderai Kasu said the clinic would be temporarily closed following a surge in COVID-19 cases which has left the institution severely understaffed.
Kasu said the clinic would, however, remain open for emergency cases only, while non-emergency cases would be referred to Zengeza Clinic.
“Over the last one week, seven Chitungwiza City health department frontline health workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and one of our frontline health workers has died after previously having tested positive for COVID-19.
“We also now have a total of 21 of our frontline health workers that are currently in self-isolation because they are contacts of the positive cases. As a result of the current severe staff shortages, and with immediate effect, Chitungwiza Municipality will be temporarily closing one of its municipal clinics, St Mary’s Clinic,” Kasu said.