#TalkingCOVID-19WithDrGrant: Rays Of Hope, But No Room For Complacency

THE past few weeks have seen a marked reduction in the number of PCR-positive COVID-19 cases across all the ten provinces of Zimbabwe. This resonates well with the marked decline in the deaths attributable to COVID-19. Additionally, the number of cases admitted at the treatment and isolation centre at Parirenyatwa has significantly declined, and so are the admissions at Wilkins Hospital and other treatment and isolation centres throughout Zimbabwe.

By Grant Murewanhema

218 new cases and 6 deaths were reported from 12 September 2020 to 18 September 2020. Harare still contributes the majority of cases and deaths, whilst some provinces did not report any cases at all. There are a number of questions asked by people:

1) Are we seeing the end of the COVID-19 outbreak in Zimbabwe?

2)Are we testing enough?

3)Are we concealing information deliberately to justify a return to normal socioeconomic activities?

We know Zimbabwe is now one of the poorest countries across the globe, with hyperinflation, and only second to Venezuela; we also know we are experiencing possibly the worst socioeconomic crisis since attaining independence in 1980, and the greatest proportion of the population are living in extreme absolute poverty as defined by the World Bank. The restrictive measures aimed at containing the COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly worsened what was already a precarious position. The authorities are really keen to resume normal economic activities (whatever our definition of normal may be).

PCR testing is very expensive, and we know we are definitely not testing enough, but a critical argument is whether testing huge volumes is really justifiable. To what extent are we following our testing strategy? Zimbabwe, in its COVID-19 operational plan had highlighted the intention to test at least 40000 individuals per month but this is a target we never met, and reports of running out of test kits have been common.

Developed countries did not aim to test that widely, and some did not bother even testing those with mild symptoms, instead prioritising treatment centres to make sure those who needed in-patient treatment got the appropriate intervention. The population must instead take the necessary precautions in all spheres of the community, assume COVID-19 is everywhere, and work towards prevention.

Others believe, based on previous experiences, that there may be deliberate concealing of information, for whatever reasons. Whilst one may not deny those allegations with certainty, there is not much reason to believe that may have been the case. A huge burden of COVID-19 in other countries was accompanied by a considerable proportion of the population seeking medical attention with health facilities and systems becoming overwhelmed.

Estimates since the beginning of the pandemic show that 10-15 percent of the affected may develop moderate to severe disease and require professional intervention. There hasn’t been an accompanying picture in Zimbabwe where health facilities are overwhelmed, and since the pandemic started very few patients have required ICU admission and ventilation.

The numbers of community deaths have drastically come down, alerts from the communities have gradually declined, and in general a great proportion of hospital in-patients have tested negative for COVID-19. Of course the strike by healthcare workers and the reduced functional capacity of the public health sector may have confounded the picture. But based on the positivity rate of the samples, which in general is leas than five percent, the picture in the country is reassuring.

I believe there is a ray of hope, and nature has allowed the COVID-19 outbreak in Zimbabwe and most of Africa to be less aggressive than elsewhere. Whilst we may not see a true end to the pandemic, the situation is under control for now.

However, this must not be a reason for complacency. We must remain vigilant at all times, and make sure we are observing universal precautions in the workplace, in the schools and colleges and in the communities where we live. Life whichever way has to go on, and the sooner the better for the communities. Whilst the UK and Europe have started seeing second waves, we hope Africa will not experience that upsurge, and we hope we wont experience the situation currently going on in India.

(About the Writer: Dr Grant Murewanhema as an independent Epidemiologist and Public Health Specialist)

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