Photograph — WHO

Earlier this week, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) filed a complaint compelling the government to beef up coronavirus personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical practitioners, public hospitals, and healthcare workers.

According to a statement released by ZADHR  on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, it revealed that the government had failed to set in place “measures to ensure that health practitioners across the country, who include nurses, nurse aides, and pharmacists among others, are adequately protected.”

Similarly, the court application read: “There are simply no adequate PPEs for health personnel working at public and private health facilities in the country. We attest to the shortages because we work there.” The doctors went on to complain that there is a “dire shortage” of ventilators, oxygen tanks, biohazard suits, and N95 facemasks to help them in the fight against COVID-19. 

In the statement, ZADHR claimed that more than 1,500 of them are working in the country’s hospitals “without adequate protection” from COVID-19. The association, therefore, warned that “if no urgent steps are taken to address the shortcomings, the country will be caught unprepared to handle a possible escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic and many lives will be lost, sadly including the lives of those at the frontline.”

Zimbabwe’s once vibrant health delivery system has collapsed over the past two decades, largely due to an economic crisis. This has raised doubts over the South African country’s ability to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The health sector has been crippled since last year after months of strikes over poor working conditions, with doctors claiming that patients were dying due to lack of medical supplies. 

As of April 9, 2020, there are eleven recorded cases of COVID-19 and one death( Zororo Makamba) in Zimbabwe. However, if no effort is made to secure adequate protective gear for medical practitioners in Zimbabwe’s public health sector, there is a tendency for the virus to spread rapidly. 

Last month, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the Director-General of WHO stated that “we can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first.” Worldwide, healthcare workers depend on PPE to protect themselves and their patients from being infected with the coronavirus. But when there is an absence or shortage of these gears, medical practitioners and all other frontline workers are dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients. 

Although the Zimbabwean government received a donation from the Jack Ma Foundation that included 200,000 testing kits, 100,000 face masks, and 10,000 protective suits, these equipments are not enough for the country’s health personnel. The government should, therefore, seek more external aid either in cash grants or medical equipments to help provide PPE and curb the spread of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe. 

In addition, the Zimbabwean government should develop incentives for industries to ramp up the production of PPEs while easing restrictions on the export and distribution of such medical gears and other medical supplies. This action will inevitably aid health workers all over the country and prevent further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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