social commentary:with Moses Mugugunyeki
Centenarian Sekuru Gonomenye has witnessed and endured a number of plagues and epidemics that have ravaged humanity and at times changed the course of history.
At 106 years old, Sekuru Gonomenye, who could be one of a handful of surviving centenarians in the country, still believes he has what it takes to yet again survive Covid-19, which poses a serious risk to older persons.
Born in 1914, Sekuru Gonomenye, an inmate at Mucheke Old People’s Home in Masvingo, was two years old when an estimated 500 million people from the South Seas to the North Pole were infected by the Spanish flu.
In 1957 he witnessed an influenza pandemic — Asian flu — with its roots in China, which claimed more than 1,1 million lives worldwide, with 116 000 deaths occurring in the United States alone.
In 2009 the swine flu pandemic, which originated in Mexico before spreading to the rest of the world, infected as many as 1,4 billion people across the globe and killed between 151 700 and 575 400 people.
There have been epidemics such as Ebola and Zika virus that have also claimed lives in other countries.
Today at 106 years old, Sekuru Gonomenye is witnessing another pandemic that has ravaged hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe.
At home, the pandemic, with its roots in China, has seen more than 500 people testing positive to Covid-19.
Unlike swine flu which primarily affected children and young adults, senior citizens are more susceptible to Covid-19.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), while the median age of confirmed Covid-19 cases is 51, fatality rates for those over 80 years of age is five times the global average.
Over 95% of fatalities due to Covid-19 in Europe have been of people 60 years or older while in the US, 80% of deaths were among adults 65 and over.
In China, approximately 80% of deaths occurred among adults aged 60 years or older.
This reality poses a series of direct and indirect challenges for the senior citizens.
It is against this background that the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) has embarked on preventative actions to help protect older adults in the country.
The organisation, with the support of the Coca-Cola Foundation, has targeted 35 old people’s homes across the country donating personal protective equipment.
“ZRCS has received funding from the Coca-Cola Foundation towards its ongoing Covid-19 response efforts. Through this partnership, we intend to contribute towards the reduction of mortality and morbidity from Covid-19 in Zimbabwe,” said ZRCS head of communications and corporate affairs Stambuli Kim.
“To increase Covid-19 awareness by rolling out risk communication and community engagement to prevent further spread of the disease from among the vulnerable population, we are distributing sanitisers, handwashing buckets and liquid soap to 35 old people’s homes.
“The intention is to ensure protection of the elderly population who are among the vulnerable groups often with comorbid conditions.
Kim said ZRCS would run interactive sessions on community radio stations across the country.
Gwanda Old People’s Home chairperson Rido Mpofu said since advanced age creates vulnerability, there was need to protect senior citizens jealously against Covid-19.
“When one gets older, this tends to increase vulnerability and in this case they become more susceptible to Covid-19,” said Mpofu, who is credited for establishing the old people’s home when he was mayor of the mining town in 1999.
“We are happy with this Covid-19 donation, but we also want more help particularly with drugs. Due to old age, most people here are on medication, but the supplies have dwindled.”
Mpofu said well-wishers had come to their rescue.
Old age causes decreased strength, poor tolerance of physical activity, functional limitations and decreased sensory awareness, which increases old people’s vulnerability to diseases, including Covid-19.
According to WHO although all age groups are at risk of contracting Covid-19, older persons are at a significantly higher risk of mortality and severe disease following infection, with those over 80 years old dying at five times the average rate.
An estimated 66% of people aged 70 and over have at least one underlying condition, placing them at increased risk of severe impact from Covid-19.
Abel Moyo, one of the inmates at Batanai Old People’s Home in Gweru, believes more needs to be done to protect the senior citizens against Covid-19.
“We welcome the support we are getting as far as Covid-19 is concerned. We need more support so that we survive this scourge,” Moyo said.
Masvingo provincial development coordinator Fungai Mbetsa said old people were a fountain of wisdom, hence the need to support them.
“If you look at Sekuru Gonomhenye, he has seen it all. These old people are the custodians of rare knowledge and skills, as well as history. They need our support and thank you Red Cross and Coca-Cola for this timely donation.”
Coca-Cola country manager Milidzani Ncube said the donation would go a long way in assisting ZRCS to fight the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
“As Coca-Cola System in Zimbabwe, which comprises of The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Beverages, Mutare Bottling Company and Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited, we have invested towards mass communication, hygiene and sanitisation as well as donations to assist the health care of workers and people on the frontline and the less-privileged,” Ncube said.
“The support would be used to procure the much-needed equipment such as rapid test kits and personnel protective equipment.”
More than 1 148 senior citizens from 35 old people’s homes across the country benefited from the donation.