FEAR and ignorance have led healthcare workers at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo to neglect patients that suffer from other ailments, as they now believe that every ill person who walks through the health centre’s gates suffers from the deadly and highly contagious coronavirus (Covid-19).
Health workers from the country’s major hospitals were up in arms with authorities during the course of last week, as they claimed that their lives were under undue risk because of lack of Protective Personal Equipment (PPE).
On Friday, the Health Apex Council insisted that health workers were not on strike after a meeting with Health Services Bipartite Negotiating Platform held in Harare the previous day.
EcoSure, a subsidiary of Econet, owned by business mogul Mr Strive Masiyiwa, has since offered free PPE for all doctors and nurses who attend duties during the fight against the epidemic, while they have also offered free Vaya transport to both nurses and doctors, so they can commute to and from work in safe and sanitised vehicles.
In addition, they have put on the table life and health insurance in the form of a cash benefit of $500 per day, for each day of hospitalisation, and a lump sum benefit of $50 000 in the event of permanent disability and eventual death caused by any accident of any health worker during this period.
In an interview with Sunday News, Mpilo Central Hospital Clinical Director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said health workers had been turning away patients in fear that they might have Covid-19.
“We have a worry about health workers turning away people from hospitals. I have been saying that there will be ignorance leading to chaos leading to mass deaths and this is already happening.
“We have a situation whereby health workers are now labelling everyone as a Covid-19 patient and this is going to kill people unnecessarily,” he said.
Dr Ngwenya said they had tried to educate health workers at the institution but had not made much headway, as they already had made their minds up.
“This morning (Friday) the CEO (chief executive officer) and I at Mpilo tried to have an educational talk with members of staff and they appear not to be receptive to any educational changes.
“They have made up their mind that every patient in Zimbabwe is a Covid-19 patient which is quite grossly ignorant on its own. So yes, indeed this is a fear that I have always had.
“People with normal illnesses are going to be neglected, and already they are being neglected and they will die unnecessarily. So unfortunately, my prediction of chaos and ignorance without health workers being educated as we enter this terrible epidemic is coming true,” he said.
This week, social media was awash with rumours of people who passed away with ailments relatives or friends suspect could have been Covid-19.
Dr Ngwenya said any patient who had not been diagnosed with the illness could not be labelled a Covid-19 victim posthumously.
“There’s the issue of people who pass away without having been diagnosed with the virus but their relatives suspect they might have had it. A person who has not had a diagnosis of Covid-19 but dies will be buried as a normal case.
“It’s not right to label people on suspicion. As I was saying, doctors and nurses are now taking people as Covid-19 patients on suspicion and we don’t want this to be the case.
“A person who hasn’t been diagnosed as a Covid-19 patient should be buried in a normal way,” he said.
He encouraged people to observe hygiene and etiquette tips that health practitioners have been preaching about in light of the deadly virus.
“We have been encouraging people to practice basic hygiene and to have small gatherings at funerals. They should wash their hands all the time, avoid being near each other, avoid shaking hands and so forth. This should be an ongoing thing whether there is a funeral or not,” he said.