OVER 30 000 plus frontline health workers in the country are vulnerable to coronavirus after government reportedly ignored a court order to provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE), with healthcare providers warning that this was a ticking time bomb.
Alfonce Mbizwo/Nkululeko Sibanda/Everson Mushava
Already, two heath workers in Bulawayo, identified as case numbers 15 and 19 last week tested positive for the novel virus but thousands are facing increased risk as they deal with the rising number of returning residents from COVID-19 hotspots and community transmission cases.
“The PPE situation remains very critical. We have not received any positive feedback from health workers countrywide (that government had started supplying the equipment),” Fortune Nyamande, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) told NewsDay yesterday.
He said there has been no indication from government how it wanted to proceed. “We are consulting with our lawyers how to seek enforcement of the High Court order in view of the continued exposure of health workers.”
The exposure of health workers to coronavirus has become an issue of concern internationally. More than 27 000 health workers in Spain have tested positive for coronavirus, according to that country’s emergency co-ordination centre. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States figures show that nearly 9 300 healthcare workers contracted COVID-19 during the course of their work and 27 have died in that country while in Italy, more than 41 doctors died while over 5 000 doctors and nurses had tested positive to the deadly virus. In the United Kingdom, at least 100 healthcare workers have died of coronavirus, according to Nursing Notes, a platform run by nurses in that country.
In Zimbabwe, on April 14 the High Court ordered the government to provide personal protective equipment for frontline health workers across the country to protect them against contracting COVID-19 while attending to patients after ZADHR went to court to argue that the State was putting them at risk by not providing them with PPE.
The government was also not carrying out tests on the frontline health personnel, putting them and patients at risk of infection, while ZADHR argues that it did not use proper equipment to screen a few.
“A few health workers were screened using the rapid diagnostic test kits last week. The numbers are still very low and almost insignificant,” Nyamande said.
“The tests used are also not the diagnostic PCR tests which are the gold standard in diagnosing COVID-19. All registered health workers in Zimbabwe are at risk, both private and public practitioners.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) president, Enock Dongo told NewsDay that failure by government to avail PPE to heath workers was creating a breeding ground for the fast-spreading virus.
“Government officials will be quick to point out that no health worker in the country has tested positive for the virus or is affected in one way or another. It is easy to say that but mind you, none of the essential healthcare workers have been tested so far for COVID-19,” Dongo said.
He said efforts to raise the issue with government had fallen on deaf ears as none of the senior government officials was keen on taking the association’s advice seriously.
“Zina has been advising government to ensure that there is testing of the nurses who are the first instance persons when it comes to the coronavirus. Nurses are the first ones who observe the patients and check them every time they go to a hospital with symptoms of the coronavirus.
“If those nurses contract the virus, they are in a very big risk of spreading it around themselves and among patients and the only way to avoid this is to test them and be sure that none of them have contracted the virus.
The challenge is that no one in government is listening to our advice,” Dongo added.
The Zina boss said the few kits that his organisation’s members had received were inadequate, with some of the members mostly working without the protective gear.
“The kits for personal protection are highly adequate. Most of our members are exposed to this pandemic because there are no protective clothing kits. Testing of nurses has been poor so far. It seems nobody cares at all.
“If the nation fails to take care of those that are in the first line of defence, it means very little care is taken about all the other people who are also likely to contract the virus. We are worried as Zina as to why government is failing to focus on those issues that concern health workers,” Dongo said.
He warned that coronavirus cases in the country would likely spike if government continuously fails to act.
“We have said a lot and nobody seems to be listening. Should we continue as if everything is normal. We are at a high risk of having a massive rise in the numbers of those that have the virus,” Dongo said.
“We have to look at the spread ratios of this pandemic. If we don’t contain it at the first level and we leave nurses so exposed, they will infect others who will in turn infect others and the infection chain will continue to grow. In the end, we will have an unmanageable situation which we could have avoided had our government listened to what we tell them.”