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Covid-19 dead bodies pile up amid St Anne’s Hospital fight

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AS the Covid-19 pandemic third wave becomes more virulent and fatal – with the month of July being the deadliest since March last year – St Anne’s Hospital in Harare, a private health institution which is one of the treatment centres in the country, is engulfed in a fierce ownership wrangle among rival parties.

OWEN GAGARE

This comes as a medical expert at St Anne’s, Dr Tinashe Gede – a specialist physician working in the Covid-19 unit red zone – this week provided horrifying insight into what is happening at the hospital and on the frontline, especially behind the scenes.

In an interview with The NewsHawks last night, Gede – who on Tuesday raised alarm, citing “death upon death” at St Anne’s in a chilling video message which went viral – said most people are currently going to hospital to die.
He described the situation as “high stakes”, “crisis” and “absolute catastrophe”.

The Zimbabwe and United States-trained doctor said people were vulnerable as they arrive at hospital sick without vaccination, having been on wrong medication and with their immune systems ravaged by the coronavirus.

“The Covid-19 third wave is far more virulent and transmissible than the first and second. Hospitals are full; only intensive care unit (ICU) beds are becoming increasingly available because of deaths rather than recoveries. We don’t have surge capacity at hospitals as our facilities have been chronically under-funded for a long time,” he said.

“Chances of people going into ICU and coming out alive are very slim. Research shows in ICU settings in African countries, mortality rates are very high.”

On Friday, there were 91 deaths and 2 265 new cases. On Saturday, there were 89 deaths and 1 591 new cases. Zimbabwe has cumulatively recorded 97 277 cases and 3 050 deaths since Covid-19 began. There have been 64 628 recoveries.

However, experts say official statistics do not reflect the broader reality on the ground at all levels; far more people have been affected by the pandemic than officially recorded.

While bodies pile up, St Anne’s is at the centre of a fierce raging ownership wrangle.

The battle for the control of the 164-bed hospital located on King George Road in Harare’s Avondale suburb, pits the government, Little Company of Mary (LCM) of the Roman Catholic Church, Caps Holdings and local businessman Frederick Mutanda, locked in a blazing wrangle over a disputed sale of the pharmaceutical company.

The issue has sucked in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Joint Operations Command (Joc) – which brings together the police, intelligence service and the army – and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). The issue is before the courts and currently in arbitration.

Mutanda has raised fears of being killed, saying he had already been abducted and threatened with elimination, apart from what he says is coercive dispossession.

“This dispute has been going on for a long time. In August 2007, I met with Joc commanders at CIO headquarters, Chaminuka Building, in Harare, to discuss the issue of Caps Holdings which government bought in the 1980s from its Jewish owners, then sold to management and workers, before I bought shares on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and from Interfin Holdings,” Mutanda told The NewsHawks.

“At the meeting, which was chaired by the then State Security minister Didymus Mutasa and attended by high-profile Joc members, including Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, then Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, and former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, among other people, I was basically told that government was to buy Caps Holdings and I must sell to them.

It took years because they were reneging on their obligations and, when we finally did the deal, they moved goalposts and wanted to pay me in local currency when the deal was in US dollars. I have rejected the money they have sent to me and will send back more of that money when the Treasury Bills they gave me mature. It’s my company, not theirs. Now they want to kill me for that. How can you do that in 2021?”

As reported by The NewsHawks last December, the CIO has been investigating the explosive commercial dispute between the government and interim trustees of Caps Pharmaceutical Trust involving a US$45 million deal. Mutanda is also involved.

This came as the High Court earlier that month ruled that the government should seek arbitration with Caps Pharmaceutical Trust to ascertain the shareholding structure that emerged after the purported sale of Caps Holdings, the parent company, by Mutanda to the state. The arbitration should also establish whether money was paid in the disputed sale.

The government says in 2015 it acquired majority 68% shareholding in Caps Holdings Ltd and all its subsidiaries.

The deal, which was bankrolled through Treasury Bills (TBs), was approved by cabinet on 19 November 2015.

A week later – on 27 November 2015 – cabinet also approved payment of US$45 million for the equity stake.
Mutanda says he has approached many senior government officials to resolve the issue amicably, but so far in vain.

Further, Mutanda adds he has rejected the whole deal because the government is now paying in worthless local currency when the arrangement was US dollar-denominated.

While the government insists it has brought Caps, hence it owns St Anne’s which was part of its assets, Mutanda says that is fraudulent.

The LCM, run by the Catholic nuns, says it has taken back the hospital from Mutanda who says he paid the company in Ireland.

Just before the coup, the hospital was also entangled in another controversy as it was in the process of being transferred to former first lady Grace Mugabe.

The coup disrupted the deal. Now a new further controversy has arisen after the Solidarity Trust of Zimbabwe, which Mutanda says includes President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son-in-law Gerald Mlotshwa and his wife Farai and prominent local businesspeople, entered into a joint-venture with LCM on 1 April 2020 to establish a Covid-19 response centre at St Anne’s. Mutanda says that was an “illegal arrangement”.

At another level, Mutanda is also challenging Caps Manufacturing’s debt-to-equity swap takeover by the Zimbabwe Asset Management Corporation (Zamco), arguing that the government has an obligation to settle the debt since it owes Caps US$7 million.

The Solidarity Trust has now been virtually booted out of the messy arrangement.

While the ownership row is intensifying, doctors associated with St Anne’s Hospital – re-opened by Chiwenga last month after five years of closure – say only part of the facility’s full capacity is operating despite receiving significant donations for refurbishment and equipment to make it a suitable Covid-19 treatment centre.

Those complaining say while there are at least 100 beds at St Anne’s, only half the capacity is being utilised, raising questions on what happened to the donations.

The protestors say public funding was secured to revamp the hospital, buy equipment and pay salaries for full capacity, but the nuns, for reasons best known to themselves, have not hired the nurses and doctors. This has led to charges that they want to keep the money and the renovated hospital while people die.

While disputes in this convoluted and complex issue rage on, people are dying and Dr Gede brought this to public attention as he sought to encourage people to get vaccinated, seek urgent medical intervention and avoid using concoctions which are not scientific and recommended as that only further complicates the situation.

A lot of Zimbabweans are now turning to ivermectin in a bid to combat Covid-19.

Zimbabwe is officially allowing the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19 as the third wave of infections sets in.
Preliminary research findings in the United  Kingdom from a small pilot study on the drug, which is used to treat parasitic infections, show that administering it early to Covid-19 patients could reduce viral load levels.

Through a government notice, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) has said: “The secretary for health and child care has authorised the MCAZ to authorise the importation and use of ivermectin for Covid-19.”

Prior to the interview with The NewsHawks, Dr Gede had raised alarm on Tuesday in a recorded video message, which went viral, saying St Anne’s was full and overwhelmed by people arriving while in the jaws of death.

He spoke of “death upon death”.

The medical doctor emphasised that the current situation was a “crisis” and “an absolute catastrophe”. He added: “We are facing on the clinical side an absolute catastrophe.”

“Today has been a very difficult day; literally since morning there had been death upon death…,” he said.

“There simply isn’t any further capacity to admit more patients. The patients who are in are very ill, a good number of them may not survive, some of them will take long to recover; we are in the middle of a very, very serious crisis.”

The doctor said the common denominator among the casualties was: no vaccination, wrong treatment and delays in going to hospital.

He said the “stakes are too high” for people not to vaccinate, take wrong therapy and delay in going to hospital.

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