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Ngwenya: Why Covid-19 is still a huge threat

Mpilo Central Hospital CEO Solwayo Ngwenya has emerged as a leading voice from Zimbabwe’s medical field in fighting Covid-19 through sometimes controversial social media messages.

Ngwenya (SN), who also runs Royal Women’s Clinic in Bulawayo and is a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor, that Zimbabweans were now paying attention to his messages after initial resistance.

The renowned academic said there was need for Zimbabweans to remain vigilant as Covid-19 was still a little-known condition with the potential to wipe out populations.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Describe to me how it is like getting to hospital and meeting the nurses and doctors where you work and leaving your family behind.
SN: Firstly, you have to lead your troops because all your juniors are looking up for leadership from you.
So you have to put a courageous outlook and encourage people that we have to do this job and encourage people that we have to do this to meet our standards, there are people to be served.
We see how it goes, we take precautions and it’s important that we look out to the people.
So when they see the leader leading they are also inspired and do the work, so this is how we take this virus head-on.

TN: In terms of your protection and the protection for the people that you work with, are you comfortable with those issues, PPE (personal protective equipment) and all those kinds of related safety concerns?
SN: Yes, at the moment we have adequate PPEs, that is why we are encouraging people not to get infected because if the numbers were really to skyrocket, we would run out of essentials.
Most of these things are very expensive and are imported by the government.
They are not something that you can just go and get over (the counter).
Yes, we have adequate cover for the current levels of infections, but if we are to go to thousands, we will run out of PPEs and other essential supplies and so forth and so on.
It is extremely important that we reduce the levels of infections that we are seeing now.

TN: Of what you are witnessing in the Mpilo Central Hospital regarding the Covid 19 situation, what is the situation like and what are you experiencing on a daily basis?
SN: The first thing that I see when I get to the office is to see people getting admitted and those who die on admission.
I can see there is an increase in the number of people who are coming to the hospital of late and dying in the process. We have a ward where we keep people, who we suspect have Covid-19 and we test them and await for results.
So in that ward we keep them while they are awaiting the results and transfer them to the nearest hospital that is a Covid centre.
So it’s an increasing problem because we used to have zero patients and now on average we have 15 to 20 people in that ward for Covid-19 patients.
At least one or two people will die every morning or on admission by relatives.
So you can see that it is indeed a worrying trend that is emerging.

TN: It must be worrying, stressful and emotional for you and your staff.
SN: It is extremely (worrying) because, you know, these are relatives and people, who come from the townships and so forth.
They come and die in our hands and with this Covid-19 when it is at an advanced stage, it gives them no chance at all.
So it is quite a dangerous job that we are doing and it is stressful, but we have no choice because you cannot leave the hospital unattended, you have to continue working.
So there is some element of dedication to duty, sacrificing your life and putting your whole life at risk.

TN: You have attracted a lot of attention, we have already spoken about Covid-19 and you were explaining to us the pain of seeing the patients struggling and some of them are actually dying in front of you.
You have been very clear and consistent about your message to Zimbabweans regarding the pandemic.
Do you think the message that you have been disseminating is getting through?
SN: Yes, but when I first began people actually thought it was a joke, that I am an alarmist and so forth, but now with the rise in deaths people are realising and taking this seriously.
So, I am happy that the messages are hitting home.
The idea is to prevent people from dying from this virus, it’s not good for our own people to die on us, and so I am happy eventually that the message is getting home.

TN: Prof, if there was one message that you would share with Zimbabweans right now, concerning Covid-19, what will be that message be?
SN: That would be: look, we find ourselves globally even including here in Zimbabwe faced with a very terrible situation, and it’s a terrible virus that up to date no one knows anything about.
It’s still going and it’s a killer, there is no way as Zimbabwe we are going to face this virus, we do not have the resources.
If we are going out to face this virus, we are going to die.
In the first wave people were recovering, but the virus is now a serious threat to people’s lives and can kill you within days.
So you have to listen to the advice given, listen to the government headlines and be safe until we know what is really happening.
Nobody knows at the moment.

TN: What advice, Professor, would you like to share with the public?
SN: The message at the moment is that we must avoid being infected.
So you have to take extreme measures to ensure that the virus does not get into your body.
You have seen it even in developed countries that people die, with all the machines and all the ventilators.
So the best way is to make sure that the virus does not get into your body.

TN: Prof, we have seen people panicking, people are scared. We have seen people taking unproven Covid-19 remedies and a number of concoctions.
Are there any remedies that people are talking about that worry you like please do not do this or do not take A,B,C?
SN: For you to use complementary medicine — and we have complementary medicine and Chinese medicine and so forth —if you use a herb, for example, a gumtree, that helps with flu, you can use it, but we do not want you to use certain concoctions because they can cause internal organs failure like kidney failure.
So do not use concoctions that you are not familiar with.
Always take medicines that are prescribed by a qualified doctor.
You can do the things that you have always done at home like steaming.
You can do that. There is no harm in it, but some panic and start taking different trees and that is not a good thing because it can harm your body.

TN: So as far as you are concerned, steaming is a good thing to do?
SN: Streaming has always been there, you can take guava leaves, you can take gum trees and so forth.
The idea is that if you stream, you can actually dry your nostrils where the virus can move.
So it has no harm and you can do it with some other complementary medicine.

TN: So I am going to go through a number of things that I have and I want you to comment on those.
What is you view on the issue of Ivermectin?
SN: That one is veterinary medicine and we do not encourage people to take medicines meant for cows, people are going to use this panic to make money.
There is no scientific evidence to prove getting Ivermectin (is helpful).
So I discourage its use and if you were to give it to me, I would refuse it.
For our regulatory authorities here in Zimbabwe, this is unregistered medicine so we do not encourage it.

TN: What about hydroxychloroquine?
SN: No, I will not take it either, it is an anti-malaria drug and causes a lot of internal organ damages. I will not take it.

TN: What about zinc?
SN: Zinc is a supplementary drug, complementary medicine.

TN: What about nano silver?
SN: No, I will not take that one, I will rather steam with my Gumtree and other things that I know of.

TN: What about doxycycline?
SN: It is an antibiotic and it has no role in infection and, therefore, I will not take it.

TN: What about zumbani?
SN: That one. I am not familiar with the trees. If the people know they have been steaming with it, they can steam with it, but I will not encourage it to be ingested.

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