The 2020 novel coronavirus threat is very real and developed countries like China are building brand new hospitals to deal with this immense threat, which has already surpassed the 2003 SARS pandemic in its proportions.
Over 24 000 cases and more than 400 deaths have already been reported worldwide, most of them in China.
Countries like the USA evacuated their citizens from China and are putting into quarantine travellers from the affected regions. China itself has put some cities into lockdown and many countries are discouraging non-essential travel to China.
But we have a problem in Zimbabwe. The authorities tell us that they are ready for any cases that may come from China, that we are ready to handle an outbreak, and that the nation should not worry.
They tell us our ports of entry are well-manned and well-equipped to detect any cases. This kind of propaganda neither convinces us nor helps Zimbabwe.
We know there is a real threat. We know the government cannot suddenly have adequate human resources to deal with this threat when our health problem has not yet been resolved, and we are still unable to offer the normal routine health care to the nation. Doctors are leaving the country in dozens. We know the nurses are still working a few days a week each due to incapacitation.
We are fully aware that there are no medicines in our hospitals, even simple ones like paracetamol, and that most of our hospital equipment is nonfunctional, including laboratories, radiology equipment and theatre equipment.
We have central hospitals reported to be running on one borrowed ventilator! Add this to stories doing the rounds that the government spent millions of dollars on non-functional equipment recently and you have the making of a disaster.
What do we expect the government to do?
The first thing is proper communication to the public about this looming outbreak. This is a public health issue and not a State secret.
There is a lot of misinformation out there. The government has been very slow to act and we are way behind the epidemic. By now all health workers should have been properly trained on early diagnosis of a case, what to do when they see a suspected case and where to refer the case.
We should be having a proper case definition known by both health workers and lay people in the street. The latter are actually likely to be the ones who first suspect a case.
The government should flood the nation with information and give at least weekly updates on both national and international developments. Most health workers are not clear on how the 2020 novel Corona virus infection presents.
The government must put aside proven serious resources to prepare for this outbreak, and not wait for disaster to strike. Reassure us by telling us how much has been set aside to deal with the threat.
Show us evidence of the personal protective equipment purchased for the health workers.
We want to see the relevant institutions stocked with medicines and sundries, and we want to be assured that resources to send specimens to South Africa for virological confirmation are there.
Show us (at least the health workers) that packaging material for carrying these dangerous specimens is there. Simply saying we are ready for this threat without tangible evidence is cheap propaganda.
The government has hitherto concentrated on airports, yet it is reported that some people from China are crossing Victoria Falls bridge on foot. Screening and data collection should be done at all ports of entry.
Non-essential travel to and from China should be minimized forthwith, because we simply do not have the capacity other nations have to deal with a corona virus outbreak in Zimbabwe.
The two-week quarantine period should be enforced. It is regrettable that some of the known visitors from China have not been visited by a public health official, or even so much as received a phone call, yet we claim to be monitoring them. How exactly are we monitoring these people under quarantine at their homes?
We urge the government to be transparent on this issue, and keep the public well informed.
Our true level of capacitation should be declared, so that well-wishers can come in and assist.
Government should be very open with the WHO and continue to tap into their global expertise. They have the wherewithal to raise partners who can capacitate us to deal with this grave threat.
Dr Henry Madzorera
Secretary For Health and Child Welfare