MAJOR Covid-19 referral centres are overwhelmed by the growing number of patients seeking treatment, amid concerns of lack of capacity to deal with the surge that the country has been witnessing since the Christmas holidays.
Lack of admission beds for Covid-19 patients has become a headache for the authorities who are reportedly turning away some patients.
One of the country’s largest referral hospitals, Parirenyatwa, which has a designated Covid-19 centre, this week admitted that the hospital was overwhelmed with patients seeking treatment, further putting a strain on the facility’s limited resources.
“While it is fact that the second wave has resulted in the hospital handling more Covid-19 cases than before because of the second wave, Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals is doing everything possible to cope with the overwhelming numbers of Covid-19 patients who are presenting to the hospital,” hospital management admitted.
A visit by The NewsHawks to Parirenyatwa’s red zone, which houses most Covid-19 patients, showed the high volume of patients amid reports that admission beds are full.
The coronavirus surge has also put a strain on the depleted stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“It is quite apparent that the second wave has brought about a number of challenges with it like higher demand for PPE, equipment and staff,” the hospital said.
The testing tents outside the red zone are inundated with patients seeking Covid-19 lab tests.
Hospital staff at emergency wards were seen wearing makeshift PPE to protect themselves from the virus while only a few were wearing the requisite protecting clothing.
This week, the hospital admitted that the lack of PPE had become a huge challenge for the institution, a major referral centre, raising concerns of a possible spike in cases among frontline workers.
Sources at Parirenyatwa say the hospital has the capacity of 400 admission beds but it is also strained.
The hospital has only two intensive care unit (ICU) beds for Covid-19 and they are taken.
Private hospitals are also fully booked as relatives of ill patients battle to find admission beds.
Some have taken to social media in search of admission beds.
The hospital does not have sufficient ICU facilities, ventilators and personal protective equipment for frontline workers, officials said.
Furthermore, the precarious situation of critical patients has also been worsened by the lack of oxygen, a critical component for those exhibiting breathing problems. The government this week flighted a tender for oxygen supplies as it moves to combat an impending crisis, amid growing Covid-19 fatalities.
Doctors have raised alarm that the already fragile healthcare system is overwhelmed by the ongoing surge, which triggered a strict 30-day lockdown.
While the authorities at Sally Mugabe Hospital in Harare say the Covid-19 situation is under control, doctors say there was an admissions bed crisis and fears of a surge in cases among frontline staff.
The hospital has several frontline workers in quarantine after contracting Covid-19 in the line of duty, compromising efforts to contain the surge in cases.
Last week, midwives and other nurses at Sally Mugabe Hospital downed stethoscopes in protest after a colleague and matron at the institution succumbed to Covid-19 on Thursday.
While the hospital management downplayed the lack of PPE at the institution, nurses say they are putting their lives on the line by working under dire conditions.
“We are not a designated Covid-19 centre per say but we are coping with the patients that we have. Once a health personnel catches Covid, we isolate them,” the acting clinical director, Hopewell Mungani, said.
Mungani says the hospital is supposed to be treating only a few Covid-19 patients, but health workers say most space has been taken up by coronavirus-related ailments.
Another Covid-19 referral hospital in Harare, St Anne’s, is fully booked, according to sources.
Doctors say Harare has only 30 ICU beds, grossly inadequate to cope with the surging demand.
Affluent patients are having to part with large sums of money for admission, with one private clinic charging US$2 500 for a bed, shutting out poor patients, most of whom can barely afford a decent meal daily.
Other Covid-19 referral centres like Wilkins Hospital are struggling to get enough personnel to deal with the surge in patients.
Although the hospital has capacity to house more patients, the authorities say the institution lacks trained personnel.
The number of Covid-19 patients has grown from an average of five late last year to 20, with five of them needing oxygen, authorities say.
“What we are seeing is a surge in cases from between four and five last year. We have more now. We do not have the capacity to house more patients here because of the lack of trained medical personnel,” an official told The NewsHawks this week.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) president Norman Matara said the situation at the country’s referral hospitals was dire, calling for urgent attention to save lives.
Matara raised alarm on the lack of admission beds for critical patients seeking intensive care, saying the government was silent on how to deal with the situation.
“We have a very limited bed capacity for people suffering from severe Covid. As you know, there has been an outcry of people seeking admission beds for their relatives who are ill. But as you know, the ministry was silent on how they are going to deal with that issue.
“There was no mention on how they are going to deal with bed capacity to make sure that people have access to intensive care facilities,” Matare told The NewsHawks.
At Chitungwiza General Hospital, Covid-19 patients are being turned away as the institution lacks capacity to deal with disease, further putting a strain on the already limping health sector.
Sources say several frontline workers at Chitungwiza Hospital are in quarantine after contracting Covid-19 amid fears the health facility could become a Covid-19 epicentre.