ITS been six months since the COVID-19 was declared a global health pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, and slightly over four months since it was declared a global pandemic. Today the number of infected people globally stands at an alarming 12.3 million with over 530 000 fatalities. Of course the greatest majority have been reported as recovered, and the outlook is starting to be reassuring in some countries.
By Dr Grant Murewanhema
However, some countries, notably the Americas, continue to be ravaged, recording several thousands of new infections daily. In Africa, South Africa is also feeling the heat, with the total number of confirmed cases now standing at 264 000, with 12 000 new cases having been reported in the past 24 hours alone. Indeed, the outlook is grim for South Africa.
Coming back home, things are not looking so bright after all. Zimbabwe recorded its first case on 20 March 2020, and witnessed a slow and reassuring trajectory in the first 2 months. Indeed, less than 2 months ago, the total number of cases stood below 50.
However, in the past few weeks we have started seeing an acceleration in the number of confirmed cases, with a change in the trend towards more local cases than returnees. Of the 40 new cases reported today, 30 are local cases. Notably, and regrettably, the number of infected healthcare workers, especially in the Bulawayo Metropolitan province is quite significant. Of the 30 local cases reported today, 13 are healthcare workers, 10 of them from Mpilo Hospital.
The other notable and non-reassuring component of the situation reports from the past few days, is the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 after they demised. In the past three days, a total of nine of these deaths are reported, with a number of them having occured in the community. Hopefully, investigations are underway to establish the sources of infection for the late, and detailed contact tracing is occurring to determine the extent of exposure. Otherwise these deaths speak of widespread, undetected community transmission.
There has been failure by the responsible authorities to upscale testing for COVID-19 to the level desirable for such an inexorable pandemic. This has exposed many to the danger of contracting COVID-19 unsuspecting. Our front-line workers are terribly exposed, having to work without adequate personal protective equipment at times, when dealing with patients whose COVID-19 status is unknown. Hopefully, moving into the future, we will make decisions based on what we know now. COVID-19 is here in Zimbabwe.
Of late, both the citizens and the government have become complacent, and people have started behaving as if the virus is gone. Driving around Harare, scenes of crowded people buying and selling, or queuing for this item or another has become commonplace. Physical distancing is slowly disappearing, and you can see people drinking outside shops without masks on. One wonders if there is any prevention taking place at all. Members of the Apostolic sects have started their usual gatherings in their huge numbers once again.
Of late, the government had gone silent on the level of lockdown, and the masses have been freeing themselves from the shackles gradually. Of course, a full scale lockdown will have devastating effects on the lives of people, but some level of control is warranted.
The Zimbabwean healthcare system is currently very sick, almost in intensive care unit, as the healthcare workers are on a crippling strike that has been going on for three weeks now, leaving patients with nowhere to turn. With the majority of workers now earning less than USD$100, professionals are living in absolute poverty, way below the bread basket, and serious efforts are needed from the responsible authorities to deal with this mess. Unfortunately for patients this means they have limited options to turn should one fall sick. The best scenario would therefore have been for COVID-19 infections to remain low.
The need for life to go on is obvious, but this needs to be balanced with the risk of contracting COVID-19. As the responsible authorities continue to be really unmoved by the plight of the healthcare workers and the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, citizens must really act responsibly. We should not wait for the government to impose another full scale lockdown on us, but rather we should hide ourselves whenever possible. Its time we tell ourselves that we go into public spheres when its absolutely necessary to do so, and with utmost precautions to protect myself and the community.
The fight against COVID-19 can no longer be left to higher authorities alone. Therefore lets start playing our active part as citizens as we work to defeat this menace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (Dr Grant Murewanhema, Public Health Specialist. Written in his own personal capacity, and all the opinions given here are personal.)