HomeLocalCovid-19: The number of Zimbabweans dying at home raises tough questions

Covid-19: The number of Zimbabweans dying at home raises tough questions


When she bid her son and his wife good night on July 31 Cynthia Muneno could not have known that was the last time she was seeing them and that conversation was actually the final farewell.

She never woke up the next morning and her dead body was only discovered by the house maid late the following afternoon.

Covid-19 had silently taken her without as much as a warning.

Her 68-year-old body had hardly given away any symptoms of the deadly killer, snuffing her life away as she slept alone.

“I am still struggling to understand, let alone come to terms with it all,” Muneno’s son Allan said.

“My mother was diabetic, but she took her medication religiously and, despite having reservations about the Covid 19 vaccines, she had made up her mind to take the jab and we had planned to take her for the first one here in Harare in a few days.”

A father of two young girls Allan feels robbed and says he cringes every time the word Covid is mentioned.

“She was not sick at all and had only said she was experiencing some headaches during the night.

“We put it down to not drinking enough water since many people struggle to do so in winter.”

Muneno became part of the statistics of Covid-19 community deaths in Zimbabwe.

Many people have died in their homes without exhibiting any common or known Covid-19 symptoms, only for their families to be told after the post-mortem tests that they had contracted Covid-19.

Many people have attended funerals of their departed relatives, only to be told that they had succumbed to Covid-19 after burial, when they would have done all the rituals that many still conduct on dead bodies.

The current Delta variant has defied most known Covid-19 symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose.

With hospitals still grappling with Covid-19 patients, many infected people stay at home where they take home remedies.

While this might actually be encouraged given the situation and conditions at public hospitals that may worsen a patient’s condition, home therapies may also be dangerous, especially where patients and their “home nurses” may not be aware of dwindling oxygen levels — a critical factor in Covid-19 treatment.

While vaccines are highly effective against Covid-19 infection, the Delta variant is said to be a totally different and complex virus.

It is said to be more infectious, spreads very fast and stealthly.

Initially scientists listed typical signs of Covid-19 infection, which included loss of taste and smell, fever, cough, sore throat shortness of breath and fatigue.

But the newer variants are presenting other symptoms and this may confuse many people, who then delay to seek medical attention.

Last month in July, Tinashe Gede, a specialist physician working in the Covid-19 Red Unit zone at St Annes Hospital raised the alarm at the rate at which Zimbabweans were dying from the disease, mostly at home.

“Far too many patients are either presenting too sick to be helped or dying soon after presentation and it is a very common thread in all the patients we are losing,” Gede  said.

The symptoms are now identified with the common cold with people presenting with a higher prevalence of things like runny nose and sneezing.

Many have also complained of headaches and unexplained nose bleeds.

These new symptoms, which mimic a common cold are causing many to deteriorate and die at home while nursing what they thought was a simple cold.

Relatives are now battling to deal with the trauma of these sudden deaths.

“I had difficulty finding closure because the way bodies of Covid-19 victims are interred does not give families an opportunity to grieve and bid farewell while being comforted by relatives.

“I could not even hug my few cousins who came.

“We could only stand there metres apart, with each one of us dealing with their own pain. It felt so void,” said a broken Allan.

He is, however, grateful they got to know about her Covid-19 status before burial.

“At least all protocols were then observed and we all understood that any of us could also be infected if we lost guard,” he said.

Senior Doctors Association president Shingai Nyaguse said community deaths were a worrying issue.

“There remain challenges in our case management,” Nyaguse said.

“Up to now, we are also having a high proportion of community deaths.

“That suggests a problem in our system of care.”

Low testing levels are also causing many cases to go undetected and, given the cost of tests, people will generally go for testing when it becomes desperately necessary, like when they get very sick.

This means then that people with mild symptoms and those that are asymptomatic will live inside the communities, spreading and or dying from Covid-19 unknowingly.

To date over 4 000 people have succumbed to Covid-19 in Zimbabwe since March last year. The bulk of the figure is from this year alone.

Speaking on the sidelines of a handover ceremony of a donation of Covid-19 drugs by the Indian embassy in Zimbabwe last month, Health and Child Care deputy minister John Mangwiro said the country had witnessed an upsurge in Covid-19 local transmission and deaths.

“The upsurge is a sign that people are mixing up and anyone with Covid-19 virus infection has a possibility of transmitting the same to other people,” Mangwiro said.

“This is where we are saying let’s remain committed to what the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) has pronounced, let us stay at home because staying at home means you are avoiding contact with those people who, are infected.”

Mangwiro emphasised the need to use  personal protection equipment (PPE) and general hygiene, including washing of hands.

“We must keep on washing our hands because our hands can take the virus from point A to point B and people get infected. We must continue to put on our face masks correctly and not to put the mask on the chin and leave your mouth open,” he said.

Mangwiro said the upsurge pointed to the mixing of people who had been local and those coming from other countries.

The deputy minister said many people viewed quarantine and isolation centres as prisons where people were taken to and left to die.

“Quarantine means you are being grouped at some place where you are going to be checked to see if you had developed the disease, but it does not follow that you have the disease.

“Isolation is when you have the disease, but it’s not serious enough to cause you to go to hospital.

“Those who get serious enough we then take them to high dependency unit and intensive care unit,”he said.

As a precautionary measure to curb the further spreading of Covid-19 locally, Mangwiro advised on taking serious measures to limit unnecessary movements.

“We need to re-strengthen and refocus like what we were doing in the past so that we remain safe as a nation,” he said.

Announcing a two-week extension of the current lockdown last week, Mnangagwa said Covid-19 deaths had become worrisome.

He said despite the daily infections going down from an average of 2000 to below 1000 the death rate had remained unacceptably high.

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