According to the government’s latest tally, “as at 28 July 2020, a total of 253 health workers including student nurses had tested positive for COVID-19.” This surge in cases among the frontline workers has resulted in them being forced to go off-work as they self-isolate reducing the ability of health institutions to attend to patients. In some cases essential clinics have been closed entirely with no definite reopening dates for example Edith Opperman maternity clinic in Mbare has left scores of vulnerable pregnant women without anywere to go.

Here is what the government had to say on the issue of PPEs after senior doctors threatened to down tools.

 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); It is noted that the demand for PPE is continuing to rise in sync with the rising number of Covid-19 cases. The procurement and distribution of PPE is a continuous process and not an event as the consumption rate is very high. PPE is the biggest cost driver in the prevention and containment of COVID-19. While efforts are in progress to expand local production of some of the items which will reduce pressure on resources required to import other products that are not produced locally, the Ministry is currently working with NatPharm to procure additional PPE and expeditiously distribute it to all stations. The latest PPE stock status shows that we have just over a month’s supply of PPE at the current usage rate.

There are some reports that some hospitals and clinics are refusing to attend to anyone who has not been tested for COVID-19. It does not help that for the most part testing is still very centralised and test kits do not seem to be available in every institution. Here is what the government had to say on the issue of testing:

COVID-19 Testing of hospital inpatients Testing continues to be a challenge. Health Workers are struggling to provide services to clients without COVID-19 tests being carried out in the face of inadequate PPE. There has been an increase in poor outcomes in all departments as clients go unattended as a result of limited testing capacity. The Ministry has since written to all public and private institutions directing them to set up patients under investigation units (PUI Units) to facilitate timely attendance to patients seeking care.

Whilst COVID-19 testing has been decentralized, challenges continue to be faced on availability of some consumables such as Gene X-pert cartridges which are scarce on the international market. Donations of PCR testing kits were also received but our testing capacity is limited by the shortage of viral transport media VTM and swabs among other items which include boosting human resources. In that reign the Ministry is planning to recruit laboratory trained staff.

This is just sad

The sad thing is while some people are dying from the virus, a lot more people are probably dying from other diseases as the health sector struggles to cope with diminished and fearful staff. A recent study in South Africa, which has a health care system in much better shape, has seen 17 000 more than usual deaths from natural causes. This shows just how disastrous the secondary effects of COVID-19 can be.