health talk:with Dr Johannes Marisa
Today, the world has crossed the two million mark of Covid-19 deaths with the United States topping the list with close to 400 000 people having lost their lives.
Covid-19 is a menace, lives continue to be lost daily. I am sure by now all of us have witnessed serious cases and numerous deaths during the past days which is a sign that all is not well with the pandemic.
You still hear some people on social media disputing the presence of Covid-19 even in towns and cities. Such level of ignorance should not be exhibited by somebody who can type or spell their names in public. Africa is now feeling the heat with South Africa leading on total deaths with at least 36 000 official deaths. Zimbabwe has lost at least 636 people as of today, but this figure is quite low if events on the ground are to be believed.
We are the medical practitioners doing outpatient consultations daily in both high and low-density suburbs. It is a pity that during the past two weeks, about 70% of all the patients that we attended to were clinical Covid-19 cases. The biggest limitation to full diagnosis is the absence of the necessary tests as many people could not afford to raise at least US$65 for a standard PCR test. That is where we are failing as a nation.
Failing to have reliable data results in distorted information which makes planning a mammoth task even at the highest level of administration. As foot soldiers on the ground, we note with concern the situational reports released daily. Whoever is compiling the reports should get as much data as possible from Sally Mugabe Central Hospital, Parirenyatwa Central Hospital, Chitungwiza Central Hospital and many other clinics and hospitals’ pathology units.
There are dangers of underreporting, especially when we are dealing with serious pandemics. There is naturally a false sense of self-security when one hears that only a small number of people died on a particular day yet South Africa records hundreds of hospital deaths on the same day.
The reason why some of our people do not heed lockdowns and other public health measures is that the statistics released about Covid-19 are not convincing to them and therefore the resultant dissension about the existence of the virus among us. What I can tell the nation today is Covid-19 is a reality and it is striking like lightning.
Many will not believe until it takes very close relatives, but it would be too late. It is an open secret that many people cannot find admission beds in Harare at the moment and oxygen supplies are dwindling in the country. We need the policymakers to know the terrible situation on the ground in order for them to make informed decisions.
Relaying wrong information to the policymakers is not only suicidal, but detrimental to our health as a nation. We will be wiped out in numbers.
In view of the seriousness of the Covid-19 attack on the ground, it is my belief that the following steps be taken as a matter of urgency:
lOxygen supplies should be increased in the country. The most precious commodity today is oxygen and with the demand sky-rocketing, it is imperative that the country finds oxygen sources as a matter of urgency. BOC Gases has tried its best to withstand pressure, it is only that the demand has increased dramatically by about 500% in the last three weeks.
lThat government and local authorities should declare all clinics, surgeries or hospitals as Covid-19 treatment centres. There are being so many clinics that are underutilised in cities like Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Masvingo yet people are dying in their homes with nowhere to go. Putting oxygen tanks, drips and intravenous drugs as basic items will help a lot of people especially those who have hypoxia. Staff should be motivated and if possible, donor support sought very fast in order to accommodate the many patients who now have nowhere to go. Some of us are willing to offer free medical services in such facilities in order to save our beautiful nation.
lData collection should be thorough and well-coordinated so that its integrity is not disputed. Failing to access accurate data will not take us anywhere except to watch our people die.
lTesting capacity should be increased as soon as possible with suggestions to put up testing centres in densely populated suburbs like Kuwadzana, Budiriro, Dzivarasekwa, Mufakose, Warren Park and Chitungwiza, among others. Many people cannot afford private laboratory fees so they will need support from councils or government.
lMore health education programmes should be introduced and patients should be reminded that the second wave is more lethal than the first one. People should not just self-isolate despite the worsening symptoms and signs. Report to your clinicians if you are getting shortness of breath.
Covid is real, let us all tighten our belts. Do not mislead others that there is no Covid-19. We are overwhelmed by the scourge as medical practitioners.
l Dr Johannes Marisa is a medical practitioner and public health practitioner who writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org.