HEALTH expert Professor Solwayo Ngwenya, who is also the acting CE of Mpilo Central Hospital and founder of the Royal Women’s Clinic in Bulawayo (SN) has warned of an imminent eruption of a more dangerous Covid-19 third wave coupled with deadly variants, which could result in an unprecedented spike in fatalities. Ngwenya told The NewsHawks reporter Dumisani Nyoni (DN) that the third wave will be much stronger than the last two waves as people are relaxed and no longer abiding by Covid-19 prevention protocols. Below are excerpts of the interview:
DN: Reports show that there is low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine, particularly by frontline workers. What do you think are the reasons for this low uptake?
SN: There has been quite a lot of low uptake on the vaccine, particularly the frontline workers, due to a lot of misinformation or lack of information to enable them to accept the vaccine. Probably, they need a lot of information. As you are aware, they read a lot as well. So, I think a combination of misinformation and lack of information (has resulted in the low uptake).
DN: What needs to be done to encourage people to take up the Covid-19 vaccine?
SN: For people to accept vaccines, it’s due to the social media and global messages circulating about vaccines. People need a lot of information and involvement of key players in the sector so that they have confidence and trust in the vaccines. That will allow them to therefore take part in the vaccination programme. Without trust and a whole lot of information, we might see that the uptake will be low.
DN: Are you happy with the information dissemination process regarding the country’s vaccination programme? Some feel the government did not do much to educate people on taking the jab.
SN: Information dissemination has to be strengthened actually and a lot of education needs to be done to help the people, especially using media, television and so forth.
DN: What are your views on Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 containment measures? Has there been an improvement? What has to be done to slow the spread of the virus?
SN: So far, Zimbabwe had done well in the previous two waves; we were having early lockdowns containing the measures. Unfortunately, right now as we speak there has been a lot of relaxation in the containment measures and we are seeing a lot of people mixing and mingling not following any laid down procedures. Thereby, this is going to cause a lot of infections to spread in the communities.
DN: How genuine are fears of a third wave hitting the country?
SN: My genuine fear for the third wave is that no one has got immunity to beat this coronavirus. The moment you allow people to mix and mingle and so forth, there are going to be mass infections indeed and, as we approach winter, we will see a lot of infections happening in the communities.
Usually, once the infections are widespread, people start to die from the coronavirus. So, I have grave fears for the country, once the third wave hits. This time the wave will be much stronger than the last two waves because we are now having new variants and a lot of people, instead of just remaining asymptomatic, they will be actually sick and needing a lot of healthcare intervention. So a third wave really is a very worrying threat. It’s an everyday threat.
DN: What does Zimbabwe need to do to be safe in the likelihood of a third wave?
SN: The third wave is almost here and the behaviour of the people, as I said, is appalling and contributing and fuelling it. So, until there is a paradigm shift in the way we take this virus, I am afraid of the likelihood of a third wave.
As I said, it has already started appearing in small pockets, small hot-spots and so forth. So what needs to be done, as I said, is a paradigm shift, massive changes in the way we behave, every individual, every family, to make sure that they do not come into contact with anybody without wearing a mask properly, washing hands, not going to any crowded places. Right now the most super-spreader events are going to be your schools, funerals, your churches and so forth. Others will be the queues that people are still doing in town queuing for money and so forth.
DN: What is your general advice to people to prevent infection from Covid-19?
SN: My general advice is that everyone must now pay attention really. This is not scare-mongering or any fear-mongering or anything sensational. This has been drawn out from a genuine fear for the people’s lives because not many people are actually aware what sort of a serious crisis we are facing here.
A pneumonic pandemic, as long as you are breathing, you can be a victim, it doesn’t matter what class of society you are in. So, I think everyone should now take personal responsibility.
Each family, each member and so forth should make sure that we contain these measures and also to be on their lookout so that they are aware of the Covid situation in the country and in their community so that they can avoid attending those super-spreader events that are mentioned about.
DN: How effective are home remedies like zumbani/umsuzwane? Do they work against Covid-19?
SN: Home remedies really like umsuzwane probably have no role to play as you saw in the last wave there was a lot of umsuzwane used in Harare just before a second wave hit.
So, I am not really encouraging people to spend so much on umsuzwane and so forth. If it was working, it would have stopped the second wave. So shelve it.
DN: Lastly, was it a wise decision for the government to open schools in the middle of a pandemic? What is your take on this?
SN: I have always said it and will always say it that, to me really, opening schools, borders and so forth in the middle of a pandemic is not a really wise idea.
Schools, yes, they have opened them, you will see that schools will close faster than they open because the virus is going to force the authorities to act and the communities will see all these warnings that we have given. It will be so obvious to them and by then they will agree that indeed schools don’t need to be opened during a pandemic.
What happens if you open schools during a pandemic, you will then allow a lot of human-to-human interactions and children are vectors.
They move the virus around. Most of them are asymptomatic and not feeling anything but they can move the virus around. So it’s a matter of weeks and months. You are going to see a lot of infections rising.