THE Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) has taken a swipe at government for imposing mandatory testing and wearing of face masks for citizens and employees without putting in place measures to ensure the services are available to citizens at subsidized rates or no cost at all.
By Michael Gwarisa
A survey conducted by HealthTimes indicates that a COVID-19 test at a private health facility is within the range of US$25 and US$50 per worker whereas in some instances, some facilities are charging between US$60 and US$70 per employee.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), companies are now required to procure COVID-19 Rapid Test kits for themselves to ensure a speedy testing process. President Emmerson Mnangagwa also announced that the partial 14 lock-down would also make it mandatory for citizens to wear face masks in public at their own expense.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) Executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike said it was unfortunate that Zimbabwe’s poorly resourced COVID-19 response was now inevitably shifting the burden to the most vulnerable and precarious people, households and businesses.
While significant national and international resources have been mobilised for COVID-19, the government is surprisingly now pushing the burden of COVID-19 response to individuals and companies to pay for the mandatory rapid testing and compulsory wearing of facemasks or face jail as per the draconian level 2 requirements.
“The public and stakeholders should not be by-standers in these phased decisions, they need to be informed about the decisions and make sense of how to implement them, to plan for the pandemic and its impact on their own lives and work,” said Mr Rusike.
He added that for the general public in Zimbabwe to have trust and support for any strategy for the next phases of the COVID-19 response , there is need for multisector task force to engage stakeholder and community representatives through genuinely open deliberative processes and to invite and include a broad range of evidence and perspectives into its discussion of plans and its assessment of progress in implementation.
“Beyond meeting public health criteria, the government of Zimbabwe’s decision on the measures to roll back the lockdown should have explicitly addressed how different interests and risks are being balanced and that the principles and values that are informing the decisions and their impacts on people and activities should be made very clear.
“The public health community has long been asking for health-in-all sectors. COVID-19 is providing a stimulus for this. The pandemic provides a window to see how current national health financing systems inadequately serve collective immunity to shocks.
“Wearing facemasks can help limit the spread of respiratory droplets from asymptomatic affected people. Yet the scale up of production of cloth masks goes with cautions. The public should not use medical-grade masks which are in short supply and must be reserved for health care workers.”
He added that contrary to the President’s call where he permitted for use of homemade face masks, “the effectiveness of cloth face masks was unclear, including whether their benefits outweigh their harms and if prolonged wearing increases risk of acquisition of infection, and that they be used only with clear messages on how to safely put them on and remove them (not touching the outer surface), not touching your face/mask while wearing them, on how to clean them, disinfect and dispose of them and with emphasis on other measures, such as handwashing with soap.”