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Government races to shore up hospitals as Covid-19 surges

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THE government of Zimbabwe is racing against time to build hospital capacity in anticipation of a continued surge in Covid cases, with the country’s health institutions already overwhelmed with the number of patients on admission.
NYASHA CHINGONO
The country officially entered the third wave of the pandemic at the start of winter and the prevalence of the Delta variant has not made things easier for the struggling government which was initially commended for its swift response to the pandemic.
The country’s major referral hospitals like Parirenyatwa and Sally Mugabe in Harare have been recording a surge in critical patients in need of intensive care. Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo has also witnessed an increase in Covid-19 patients with officials warning of complacency in the face of a devastating wave.
According to officials at Parirenyatwa, the hospital has been admitting 100 critical patients every week and the numbers are expected to surge to critical levels.
About 450 beds have been allocated for Covid-19 patients, while other hospitals around the country are also creating excess capacity in anticipation of a sharp rise in cases.
Chief coordinator if the national Covid-19 taskforce Dr Agnes Mahomva said the ministry of Health is working with medical facilities around the country to increase capacity.
“We have been witnessing a surge in cases and deaths, hence we are building capacity. Parirenyatwa, for example, has over 400 beds designated for Covid-19, and we have been pushing our teams around the provinces to also create capacity,” Mahomva told The NewsHawks.
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals head of public relations Linos Dhire confirmed that the hospitals had witnessed a surge in admissions and patients seeking Covid-19 treatment.
While the majority recuperate at home, numbers of critical patients needing hospital care have also increased.
“There has been a surge in in the number of patients coming to the hospital. Our hospital has 450 beds ready, and we had as of last week admitted 100 patients. However, everything is under control as of now, but another surge is to be expected in line with the national picture,” Dhire said.
Although the government had swiftly placed the country on successive hard lockdowns since the first Covid-19 case was reported in March last year, little had been done to increase hospital capacity, improve oxygen supply and intensive care unit (ICU) facilities for critical patients.
By the time Covid-19 claimed its first victim during the same month, authorities awoke to the fact that the country was ill prepared to deal with a surge in cases.
As panic gripped the public, some Zimbabweans nursing Covid-19 patients had to part with large sums of money to secure beds in private wards as the public hospitals failed to accommodate the surging numbers.
At that time, nurses and doctors were also threatening to strike over low pay, lack of protective clothing and sundries.
Current Covid-19 statistics show a grim picture as government battles a surge in peri-urban and rural areas.
Although Covid-19 was once considered a city problem, the prevalence of the virus in the rural areas shows that no one is spared.
Mashonaland West province, especially low-lying areas like Hurungwe and Karoi, have been hit hard, heralding the deadly third wave triggered by the Delta variant.
Although the government has placed Mashonaland West, parts of Bulawayo, Kwekwe and Mashonaland Central under localised lockdowns, cases have continued an upward scale.
Current hotspots include Kariba, Chidamoyo, Karoi, Chinhoyi, Guruve, Marondera, Murehwa, Chiredzi, Masvingo, Kwekwe, Harare and three areas of Bulawayo northern suburbs, Nkulumane, Emakhandeni.
Zimbabwe this week returned to a strict lockdown to combat a resurgence of Covid-19.
Despite imposing a night curfew, reduced business hours, localised lockdowns in hotspots and a ban on inter-city travel, cases have continued increasing. Rural areas, which used to be safe havens, have become hotspots.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa this week said Zimbabweans now require letters from employers to justify why they must venture out of their neighbourhoods.
“Stiffer penalties will be imposed for violations,” including revoking the licences of offending businesses, she warned.
With infections shooting up, Zimbabwe’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases quadrupled over the past two weeks from 2.04 new cases per 100 000 people on 21 June to 8.39 new cases per 100 000 people on 5 July, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Tuesday was Zimbabwe’s worst day so far in the third wave, with 2 264 new cases and 34 deaths while the government recorded 706 recoveries.
As cases rise, the demand for vaccines has also grown, with Zimbabweans jostling to get their first and second jab.
At Parirenyatwa, officials now require people to book to get the vaccine.
Although the new system has had teething problems, with some unscrupulous individuals and companies bribing their way into vaccination, it has managed to decongest the hospital.
Officials feared that people would contract the coronavirus while standing in long winding queues where there is hardly any social distancing.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of people coming to receive their first dose. Daily we receive more than 500 people, so we try to congest the hospital through the booking system. We however ask government to redistribute the vaccines to polyclinics so that we decongest this place,” Dhire said.
At Parirenyatwa, scores of people queue to get the vaccine, but announcement that vaccines have run out irks the impatient crowd.
Some have braved the morning chill to queue, but it seems their turn will never come.
Part of the problem is attributed to companies busing employees for vaccination. Apart from their large numbers, they have been accused by restless crowds of jumping the queue.
“I came here at 4.30am and should have been gone by now, but I am still at the end of the queue. There are people with uniforms who have just been going in and out. We demand an explanation now,” a resident shouted.
Zimbabwe aims to vaccinate 60% of the population by December to achieve herd immunity, but vaccine shortages have blighted an otherwise good start to the national rollout in February.
So far, Zimbabwe has received 2.26 million doses, the last 500 000 having arrived just under two weeks ago. This week’s shipment of 2 million doses from China almost doubles the total vaccine imports to 4.26 million.
This is expected to boost the vaccine outreach programme, as the country desperately needs to return to normalcy.

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