Zimbabweans opt for citizen power to equip rundown health facilities

Saturday April 11 2020

Alarmed by the government’s casual approach to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Zimbabweans are scrambling to raise resources to refurbish and re-equip hospitals to handle patients in a last-ditch effort to prevent mass deaths.

Zimbabwe has recorded 11 cases of coronavirus or Covid-19 with three fatalities, but experts say health authorities are not testing enough people or carrying out adequate contact tracing to contain the spread of the virus.

The death of prominent broadcaster Zororo Makamba on March 23, who became the first person to die from the virus, exposed the country’s lack of preparedness to handle the highly infectious disease and it has jolted private individuals and companies into action.

Mr Makamba, the 30-year-old son of a wealthy businessman with links to the ruling Zanu-PF party, died because the country’s only isolation centre for coronavirus patients lacked a ventilator and oxygen and even after his family found a ventilator, the hospital had no suitable socket to plug it in, much to the chagrin of his family, who are blaming the government for his death.

After Mr Makamba’s death, the facility was closed for 18 days to allow for renovations funded to the tune of $500,000 by the Chinese business community in Zimbabwe.

Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwe-born billionaire who early this year helped end a four-month long strike by doctors over poor pay by offering them a $300 monthly subsistence allowance, has taken the lead in helping the country prepare for a wider outbreak of the coronavirus.


Through his Higher Life Foundation, a charitable organisation, Mr Masiyiwa has secured 45 ventilators to equip Zimbabwe’s public hospitals.

The telecoms mogul, who lives in the United Kingdom, said he hopes the intervention will inspire other businesspeople and companies to come to the rescue of the country’s struggling public hospitals.
Mining companies

“This is a drop in the bucket in terms of actual requirements, so I hope groups like mining companies, bottling groups, banks and others will follow our example,” Mr Masiyiwa said.

“(The ventilators) will be shipped before the end of the month.”

One of his companies in Zimbabwe, Cassava Smartech, also offered to provide health workers with life and health insurances as well as safe transport to and from work for the coming 12 months after nurses went on strike late last month fearing exposure to Covid-19.

The firm is also providing frontline medical staff with protective personal equipment.

A report released this week revealed that the government was entirely dependent on donations for the coronavirus response.

The country has not been able to utilise 20,000 laboratory diagnostic test kits for coronavirus, which were part of a donation by Alibaba Group co-founder, Jack Ma, because there are no reagents. As a result, less than 400 tests had been done by Thursday, a number described as insignificant by doctors.

There is now a scramble to import the reagents after donors raised money to assist the government.

Only the capital Harare has testing facilities for coronavirus.

Busisa Moyo, a businessman, said his company had donated money to help fix the hospitals, including a facility that has never been opened to the public for almost two decades.