Virus infections sinking Zimbabwe onto its knees

Wednesday January 13 2021

Medical personnel check temperatures of patients visiting Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on April 25, 2020. PHOTO | ZINYANGE AUNTONY | AFP


Zimbabwe’s health system is struggling to cope with a surge in Covid-19 cases with hospitals running out of beds for patients that need hospitalisation.

The southern African country has seen Covid-19 cases doubling to 17,194 in two months as of January 5.

On January 5, Zimbabwe registered the highest number of daily cases since the outbreak began in March last year at 1,365 new infections.

The 34 deaths were also by far the highest daily tally the country has recorded since the first death was reported in March 2020.

This week’s grim statistics have alarmed health experts and activists, who say Zimbabwe’s weak health system can no longer cope.

On Tuesday, Zimbabwe began a 30-day stricter lockdown, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa described as “the final push to defeat this virus for good.”


Holiday travel

Itai Rusike, the executive director of the Community Working Group on Health, a network of grassroots organisations advocating for universal access to health in Zimbabwe, said the spike had overwhelmed hospital capacity.

“All health facilities in Harare that are dealing with Covid-19 cases are at full capacity due to more demand for hospital beds as Covid-19 cases increase,” he said, adding that the poor were bearing the brunt of the new crisis.

“While Covid-19 affects everyone, it has entrenched and exacerbated the extreme inequalities and injustices that existed before the pandemic,” Mr Rusike said on Wednesday.

Some well-to-do Zimbabweans now resort to social media to scout for health facilities with available beds and oxygen to handle Covid-19 patients where they offer to pay any amount of money.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said the crisis in the country’s hospitals had reached alarming levels.

“ZADHR notes with concern the limited capacity of local health facilities to accommodate cases that need hospitalisation,” the group of doctors said.

“The surge in new infections has overwhelmed hospitals and fail to cater for the increased number of Covid-19-related hospital admissions. ZADHR condemns in the strongest terms possible the sad situation of limited intensive care unit capacity almost 10 months after the detection of the first Covid-19 case (in Zimbabwe).”

The doctors said they were also worried about Zimbabwe’s low testing capacity and lack of research on the progression of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The positivity rate in the few tests done over the past few days has been averaging 20 per cent, highlighting the possibility that the pandemic could be much worse than what is reflecting in the government statistics.

“Furthermore, the proximity and increased travel between Zimbabwe and South Africa calls for Harare to also investigate the genomic structure of the Covid-19 cases we are witnessing.”

South Africa and the UK, two countries that have large populations of Zimbabwean immigrants, have in recent months discovered new Covid-19 variants that are said to spread much faster.

After reopening its borders for the first time in December after closing them for over eight months to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, Zimbabwe saw a huge number of citizens trek home for the Christmas holidays.

The borders were closed again on January 5 after Covid-19 infections went out of control, but doctors said the measures were too little too late.