Health in Africa

COVID-19: Zimbabwe staring at ‘massive health crisis’

Southern African country does not have enough medical personnel; those trained are on strike

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 27 March 2020

Zimbabwe is staring at a ‘massive health crisis’ in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to media reports.

Lack of trained medical personnel, strikes by existing ones, unsealed borders and an ongoing severe economic crisis, all make the southern African country a ‘sitting duck’ for the novel coronavirus (SARS-COV-2).

So far, Zimbabwe has recorded three confirmed cases and one death due to coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. But the country has been accused of underreporting the cases.

It has just 0.1 health personnel for every 1,000 people, according to the World Bank.

As if that was not enough, doctors and nurses in the country recently went on strike in protest against the government’s failure to provide them with protective equipment to fight COVID-19.

The doctors will not resume work until their demands for protective gear are met, according to a spokesperson of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association. The body has also demanded ‘risk allowances’, due to fears over the high health-risk facing health personnel treating COVID-19 patients.

This is the second time that medical personnel are striking, after a four-month-long strike ended in January 2020.

Meanwhile, customs officials at the country’s largest airport in the capital, Harare, have also declared a strike fearing exposure to the coronavirus due to lack of protective gear as well as a lack of concern amongst the government for their well-being.

Finally, the country has as yet, not sealed its borders, especially with southern neighbor South Africa. Both countries are linked by the Beitbridge Border Post, that is used by over 14,000 people, 120 buses, 500 commercial trucks and 3,000 vehicles every day.

South Africa has already recorded over 706 cases of COVID-19. This makes the risk to Zimbabwe even greater.

On its part, Zimbabwe’s government claims to be doing everything to tackle the crisis. On March 23, 2020, it declared the COVID-19 pandemic as a ‘national disaster’. President Emmerson Mnangagwa ordered social distancing by putting a ban on all public gatherings of more than 100 people for 60 days.

The Beitbridge Border Post will be closing on March 27.

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