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Covid-19: We need to test, test, test

EDITORIAL COMMENT

As of Friday, Zimbabwe had carried out a meagre 329 diagnostic tests for coronavirus, a worrying figure considering the number of people that entered the country from high-risk regions before the borders were closed recently.

According to government figures, at least 13 500 people entered the country through the Beitbridge border post on the eve of South Africa’s 21-day lockdown. Thousands more used other entry points as they returned home from high-risk regions.

South Africa has over 1 505 coronavirus cases and seven fatalities, which make it the most affected country in Africa.

It goes without saying that the thousands that arrived in Zimbabwe just before the lockdown needed to be subjected to rigorous screening and testing before they were allowed into communities across the country.

South Africa has rolled out a mass testing campaign that had reached nearly 50 000 people by this weekend with plans to ramp up the exercise.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation director-general, last week was quoted saying: “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”

The message is even more relevant for countries with fragile health systems such as Zimbabwe to stop the coronavirus from spreading to the majority of the country where controlling the pandemic might prove to be a tougher task.

Health experts have emphasised that testing more people allows for early identification, isolation and treatment of coronavirus patients.

Such tests would help the country prevent a major catastrophe given the parlous state of the health delivery system, which has been crippled by regular strikes by nurses and doctors protesting over poor pay and sometimes dangerous working conditions.

Testing would enable people found to be positive to take steps to ensure that they do not infect others and for them to seek the necessary treatment.

Testimonies from Zimbabweans that have undergone coronavirus tests in the past few days, like the Ruwa family whose heartrending story is carried elsewhere in this publication, expose a health delivery system that is unprepared to handle a disaster knocking on our doors.

The Ruwa family also revealed that health authorities were not following up on their case to ensure that they do not venture out of their home and in the process expose the community to the highly infectious disease.

Their story exposes the weakness of the country’s disease surveillance mechanisms, which will expose millions to the coronavirus outbreak and deal a further blow to Zimbabwe’s economy that is already in the intensive care unit.

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