“Let’s Not Address Health Issues In Silos During Lockdown”

THE National AIDS Council (NAC) Chief Executive Officer, Dr Benard Madzima says the new level four lockdown presents an opportunity for Zimbabwe to correct the mistakes of the first lockdown which saw a sizable number of people struggling to access essential healthcare services.

By Michael Gwarisa

In an interview with HealthTimes, Dr Madzima said even though HIV  is still a burden on the country’s health sector, it was critical to prioritise other issues such as Gender Based Violence (GBV), maternal health, access to contraceptives, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), disabilities and Non-Communicable Diseases to ensure no one is left behind.

This second strict lockdown, Level 4, unlike the first lockdown, this one has really been informed by figures. We have seen an upsurge in the number of cases for COVID-19 infections and we have also seen an increase in the number of deaths which have occurred.

“As National AIDS Council (NAC) and as the Ministry of Health, we think that this second lockdown really happened when we have an advantage of people knowing the effects of the lockdown itself. They now know what it entails, what it means to be under lockdown and we hope that that knowledge can be used to mitigate against the side effects of having a lockdown,” said Dr Madzima.

He added that the side effects of having a lockdown especially for People Living with HIV include the issues of struggling to make drug refills, the issues of making sure that people have got the necessary papers to travel to health facilities to get commodities.

“In the health facilities, health workers are also in need of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) so they don’t expose themselves. We are assuming that all these things are now in place. As NAC, we are also alert to making sure that community coordination meetings will be conducted through the aid of gadgets and virtually.

“We also hope in those events where people meet physically, we observe the rules of physical distancing and of wearing masks and sanitising. We are also looking at a situation where the other effects such as issues of access to family planning and contraceptives are prioritised, the issues of GBV and making sure that people don’t get into situations where cases pf GBV have been going up as was the case in the first lockdown. The country has had ample time to learn from the first lockdown, we hope that the effects economically, healthwise and socially will not be devastating as was in the first lockdown.”

At the height of the first lockdown that was activated in March 2020, a number of people failed to access services such as family planning, Sexually Transmitted Infections treatment, post GBV care, Antiretroviral refills amongst of host of other critical services.

Pan African Positive Women Coalition Zimbabwe (PAPWC- Zim) Tendayi Westehorf said the lockdown was a welcome move but however said something needs to be done to ensure the rights of People Living with HIV are not violated at police checkpoints and road blocks during the lockdown period.

“On the part of letters to produce to the police on road blocks, I think it is still very tricky because we have a lot of people who are living with HIV and the month of January and February these months where most will be going to refill their medications and sometimes they just have an appointment letter or containers of their treatment or medical cards.

“I think it is a bit harsh because some have not yet disclosed their HIV status and I don’t know what value it would add to have one produce a card with your private health information that you are going to the doctor. I think just a word of mouth should suffice,” said Westerhof.

During the first lockdown there numerous and confirmed reports of people living with HIV both young and old being asked to involuntarily reveal their HIV status at police checkpoints and road blocks.

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