Coronavirus scare: Govt responds to rights lawyers’ concerns

By Health Reporter

THE Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) has responded to
concerns raised by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) over
threats posed by coronavirus in Zimbabwe and assured people that it
has taken bold steps and stern measures including stepping up its
preparedness in case coronavirus cases are recorded in the southern
African country.

The MoHCC made the assurances in a letter written to ZLHR on Monday 9
March 2020 in response to the human rights organisation’s request to
be furnished with information on the health threats posed by
coronavirus in Zimbabwe.

In its letter written to MoHCC on Monday 2 March 2020, ZLHR through
its lawyer Godfrey Mupanga, had expressed concern that Zimbabwe is
under considerable threat from coronavirus given the extensive human
and air traffic between Zimbabwe and its neighbours, China and other
countries, where the virus has been detected.

ZLHR also cited reports published by the mainstream media suggesting
that a case of the coronavirus had been recorded at Wilkins Hospital
in Harare, which at that time had not been publicly confirmed or
refuted by MoHCC as the responsible authority.

In view of the exposure of Zimbabwe to the coronavirus and the
country’s seriously compromised public health system and that MoHCC’s
website had no information posted on coronavirus, ZLHR protested
against the ministry’s indifference to the real threat of the deadly
virus.

ZLHR said MoHCC has fundamental obligations ascribed to it by
provisions of the Constitution, which include providing reliable
information to members of the public confirming the presence of
coronavirus in Zimbabwe including the number of infections that have
been seen at health centres across the country and the places where
these patients have been to where they might have contracted the
virus, or, correcting any erroneous information that might have been
published regarding the presence of the virus within the country’s
borders that might cause public consternation and possible public
panic.

In response to ZLHR’s letter, Dr Agnes Mahomva, the Permanent
Secretary in MoHCC, denied allegations that the ministry is
indifferent to the coronavirus threat and assured people that the
ministry is taking the public health emergency seriously and will
continue to implement heightened surveillance and a risk communication
and community engagement plan.

MoHCC, Dr Mahomva said, is implementing stern measures to intensify
surveillance for coronavirus to minimise the chances of importation of
coronavirus into Zimbabwe including stepping up government’s
preparedness inorder to minimise the morbidity and mortality should
coronavirus spread to the southern Africa country.

Dr Mahomva disclosed that MoHCC is currently facing challenges which
include limited resources to implement the National Preparedness and
Response Plan, which she claimed was fuelling perception that the
ministry is not doing as much to prepare for an outbreak of
coronavirus.

MoHCC said it is issuing some Situation Reports and Updates which
should be treated as official communication by the ministry.

Dr Mahomva said all coronavirus suspected cases are being tested at
the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory while MoHCC is also
working with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South
Africa to facilitate inter-laboratory comparability of results.

MoHCC said it had designated Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare and
Thorngroove Infectious Diseases Hospital in Bulawayo as the main isolation centres
for coronavirus while other centres are being identified and set up.

MoHCC, Dr Mahomva said, is in the process of procuring some
coronavirus Rapid Diagnostic Test kits for use at Zimbabwe’s ports of
entry.

Dr Mahomva said MoHCC had lost all educational material on coronavirus
posted on the ministry’s website owing to challenges experienced by
government’s internet service provider which hosts the ministry’s
website while efforts were being made to restore the functionality of
the portal.

In the meantime, Dr Mahomva said information encompassing coronavirus
prevention messages as recommended by World Health Organisation is
being disseminated on MoHCC’s social media platforms including Twitter
and Facebook.