ZIMBABWE’S fight against COVID-19 continues to hit turbulent waters after it emerged that council nurses who form part of the frontline workers against the deadly virus are threatening to down tools over government’s failure to provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE).
Council nurses from Harare and Gweru have given notice to down tools over lack of protective clothing, which is key to their safety when attending to patients infected with the novel virus, which has killed several health workers in most developed economies worldwide. Harare nurses have written to council health services director Prosper Chonzi advising him that they could not continue with their duties without protective clothing.
“Our members are severely incapacitated in terms of protective equipment, so they also fear for their lives,” part of the letter by the Zimbabwe Urban and Rural Council Nurses Workers’ Union dated April 10 read.
“They have been watching personnel from countries which have the capacity to provide full PPE, so they are just imagining how they are going to escape contracting this deadly virus when they have very minimum or no PPE.”
Harare nurses have downed tool many times before demanding protective clothing to be able to handle COVID-19 patients. Doctors have also been making similar demands. Government was on Tuesday ordered by the High Court to provide health workers with protective clothing, but the Health ministry accused Treasury of delaying in releasing the money needed to buy the PPE.
The ministry said it required about US$2 million for the needs of medical staff in the fight against the virus. Gweru City Council nurses also said they lacked PPE to handle the virulent disease. Douglas Chikobvu, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union, yesterday said nurses could not risk coronavirus infection.
In their demands, the nurses listed space suits (disposable), googles, elbow length gloves, outer coats, gumboots, N95 masks, face shields, disposable head gear and surgical masks. Chikobvu said the demands were genuine because hundreds of health workers abroad had died in the line of duty after attending to COVID-19 patients without proper protective equipment.
“We stand with the Gweru council nurses in their demand for PPE,” he said.
“There is general chorus and outcry countrywide from nurses in city council health centres, government and even well-established private hospitals, sonorously crying in splintered voice for the availability and provision of PPE so that nurses can discharge their duties effectively and efficiently.”
He said because of failure by authorities to avail the PPE, the nurses had “called for the upholding of standards operating procedures in containing the global epidemic”.
Chikobvu said nurses had been resigning from council health centres due to the absence of PPE. A visit by NewsDay to most of the council-run clinics in Gweru showed there was skeletal staff at Mkoba Polyclinic, Senga, Mkoba 13 and Mtapa. But Gweru council spokesperson Vimbai Chingwaramusee claimed the nurses were adequately equipped.
“It’s a lie. Our nurses are working and we provided them with protective clothing. We are also procuring more protective clothing to ensure their safety,” she said.