THE month of January has been particularly challenging for Zimbabwe as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned. We reported the highest number of cases as well as the highest number of fatalities since March 2020 when the pandemic hit the country. News of high-profile people including cabinet ministers, church bishops, medical professional and many other succumbing to the disease sent waves of fear and desperation across the population.
By Dr Grant Murewanhema
Zimbabwe is a peculiar country where access to quality medical care is a luxury to many. We have a fragile public healthcare system characterised by recurrent industrial actions and frequent raptures of essential consumables. The private healthcare sector is expensive and beyond the reach of many. With a high unemployment rate, and many thriving on the informal sector, medical insurance is a luxury many cannot even think of. It did not come as a surprise therefore that many people turned to natural remedies to protect themselves from contracting the dreaded coronavirus, and some resorted to using these means as treatment. Its therefore important to have dialogue as fellow brethren and discuss what we can do at an individual level to boost our immune systems and prepare our bodies for the unknown.
A balanced diet is the basis of a healthy human being. It contains the essentials to drive the metabolic processes of the body, build up muscle, provide warmth and more importantly contains vitamins and minerals which are essential for driving reactions that see our bodies going and fighting diseases. The mistaken belief among many is that a balanced diet is expensive, which is grossly incorrect. Our traditional, unrefined foods, mixed in the right proportions, provide us with a delicate balance of nutrients that sustained our predecessors for years and maintained them healthy. Its about mixing the right kinds of foods, with different colours and different tastes.
Vitamins such as vitamin C and D, and minerals such as zinc drive essential metabolic processes and are powerful antioxidants that help our bodies to fight against infections and strengthen our immune systems. Its beneficial to take these supplements regularly and its generally safe to take them even during pregnancy.
Traditionally, our ancestors used herbs as treatments for various ailments. By and large what is contained in most of these herbs has not been isolated, but most are known to be safe to consume and contain elements that help to boost our immune systems. One of the better studied, locally available is moringa, which is known to improve the immune system in HIV-infected patients. On their own, herbs are immune modulators but should never be used as treatment for disease because their pharmacological efficacy is unknown. Its much better to consume these before one falls sick than when one is already sick. Medical practitioners do not prescribe herbs, but there are other countries that have mastered the art of refining herbs into tablets and capsules, in the practice of complementary medicine.
Exercise is by and large beneficial in terms of reducing weight, converting bad fat into good muscle and reducing the risk of hypertension and diabetes mellitus. Lifestyle modification including adjusting diet and exercise are very important in the treatment of diabetes mellitus and hyperntension, and a number of patients can initially have their disease well-controlled on these interventions alone. The physical exercises dont have to be complicated, and you dont necessarily have to be a paid-up gymn member. Work with whats available to you and start simple; you will get better as you go. People who are physically fit have a better ability to withstand infections including COVID-19 when compared to those who dont exercise.
Optimise control of pre-existing diseases
Our lifestyle has changed, our diets have changed and we are more sedentary now more than ever. Many are now working on laptops and tablets for long hours and spend very little of their working time outside their office chair. When they want to go to their nearest shops they use a car. This has translated to a less fit population, and the burden of non-communicable disease including diabetes mellitus and hypertension is ever on the increase. These chronic conditions have been shown to increase the odds of hospital admission or death when one contracts COVID-19. It has become very important, now more than ever, to have optimal control of these chronic diseases. Liaise with your GPs, check your blood pressure and sugar levels regularly at home and adhere to your medications. Invest in those little machines to measure your blood pressure or sugar level and you wont regret.
If you are on HIV treatment, stick to your antiretroviral regimen and ensure maximum adherence for adequate virological control. Even when you travel remember to take your antiretroviral medicines with you. Any other disease one may be suffering from including asthma, needs to be well controlled during this time more than ever.
Its apparent that you can be in control of your well being. Its time to replace panic with action, and do what we can at individual level to take care of our health. Whilst the government goes on with lockdowns, and as we source vaccines, lets be acting responsibly. I have given a few tips but there is more. In the meantime, lets remember to mask-up, practise good hand-hygiene, exercise physical distancing and stay at home. Lets not hypr about medicines; rather let’s focus on prevention. We can make or break this pandemic with our behaviour, so let’s stop pointing fingers at authorities for what they did not do, but instead, lets practise good citizenship. After all, the lives we are protecting are ours.
Lastly, lets remember that the tips I prescribed above are not replacements for medical practitioners. Once one has COVID-19, they should seek the appropriate advice of medically-qualified personnel, and be advised on the appropriate management.
Together, we will beat this pandemic. God will see us through as we practise what we are advised by our public health experts. God bless you all.