THE COVID-19 pandemic is hitting hard on Zimbabwe, and growing very fast. All ten provinces in the country are reporting cases, and local transmission far outweighs imported disease. Community transmission implies many cases in society whose epidemiological origins are difficult to trace, with multiple unrelated clusters.
By Dr Grant Murewanhema
Human behavior is critical in controlling the epidemic. I find it unacceptable that there are still some individuals who justify complacency and lack of responsibility on their part. Its a known fact that Zimbabwe has resource limitations, and has limited testing capacity for SARS-CoV-2. Even some developed countries did experience those delays at the peaks of their outbreaks.
But also notably, ready availability of results did not stop exponential increases in the COVID-19 burden in their countries. Of course we are not exonerating the government of its responsibility for testing, treating and isolating cases appropriately to mitigate spread of SARS-CoV-2.
Delays in availability of results does not stop people from acting responsibly; that is, washing hands regularly, wearing facemasks appropriately, physical distancing and avoiding unnecessary movements and gatherings. Whenever you leave your house you need to ask yourself whether the movement is avoidable or not.
Many people today wear facemasks as some kind of fashion accessories, hanging them down on their chins, and not covering their noses. People refuse to practise physical distancing. I assessed Mbare (Magaba) a few days ago and it was business as usual. No masks, no distancing, and a lot of casual physical contact. In fact, the place is a ticking time bomb, and if we had a functional economy, that place was supposed to be closed until the pandemic came under control. In supermarkets people refuse to social distance, and some touch several items several times unnecessarily for no reason.
Some people want the names of people confirmed to be COVID-19 positive to be released. Its really not beneficial in any way; there is community transmission, and everybody must just be treated as a potential case. Naming individuals in our society only helps to increase stigma of affected individuals and their families; its not necessary, and probably wont be done.
In any case we already have 3000 individuals who have been cumulatively confirmed to be COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe. Not knowing who has COVID-19 or who doesnt have it must not be a cause for complacency.
We need to remember that our testing capacity is way below national targets. The country aims to do at least 40000 tests per month, which would gobble a lot of financial resources, and so far we havent gotten to that stage. Lets also remember that a lot of our cases may not exhibit any symptoms, or may just exhibit mild disease, but are still infectious.
We need to be serious; COVID-19 is real and its here in Zimbabwe, and to date has claimed over 50 lives, including a high-ranking government official. The health delivery system is currently crippled with doctors and nurses on strike, and the hospitals lacking basic essentials required for supportive treatments. Even the private sector facilities are crawling too at the moment, and we cannot cope adequately with an increased COVID-19 case burden.
So lets remember all the time is that prevention is the key, and lets remain vigilant at all times and in all settings. A change in our behaviour, attitude and risk perception is critical for successfully dealing with this pandemic.