Zimbabwe: Nurses Desert Wilkins

Nurses at the country's main Covid-19 isolation centre, Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital, are resigning as morale hits rock bottom in the crucial health sector, which is in the frontline of Zimbabwe's response to the deadly disease.

This follows revelations that the government has released a paltry ZW$100 000 to Harare City Council, which runs Wilkins and Beatrice infectious diseases hospitals, where Covid-19 patients are being treated.

Bulawayo's Thorngrove Isolation Centre is also facing shortages of protective wear for health staff.

Wilkins already had a low staff complement, resulting in the health professionals working overtime with minimal resources.

Four nurses, who were working at the facility, resigned last week, with three more indicating this week their plans to also leave.

The nurses are leaving for better opportunities, including those that have arisen at new Covid-19 response centres, including St Anne's Hospital in Harare's Avondale suburb and Arundel Hospital in Mount Pleasant, formerly Rock Foundation Medical Centre, which are offering remuneration in United States dollars. The facilities are paying around US$75 per day.

"People have been really trying, but after working so much we are getting peanuts. The morale is really low. Right now, we are closed and yet to open again when the renovations are finished, but there is nothing to be excited about. We just got our peanuts," a source at the hospital said.

"The staff here have not been getting any allowances and have been working with limited protective clothing. Some people decided that it is better to leave and go where they are paying in US dollars. Four nurses left and only 16 remain, but three more will be going soon."

Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary- general Enock Dongo said there is need for more training for nurses on the disease to improve treatment and care as well as prevent infection.

"There is the issue of training on Covid-19 as it is new and not known by people, including the frontliners who have layman's knowledge of the disease, yet the public expects more from them. The government should quickly increase the number of people being trained," Dongo said.

"We still need more PPE (personal protective equipment). There is no institution with enough PPE. As an association, we are looking for well-wishers to provide the protective clothing so as to help stop the spread of the coronavirus."

Dongo called on government to avail more resources towards fighting the virus.

"We want to see the money they were talking about on the ground. This is the time to walk-the-talk. Nurses need risk allowances because they are at risk, if you are exposed to patients suffering from the infectious disease you also need a well-balanced diet to boost your immune system. Nurses can't afford that at the moment," he said.

Dongo applauded health personnel at Wilkins and other public medical facilities who have been operating without proper protective clothing, exposing themselves to infection.

Health director in the City of Harare Dr Prosper Chonzi said the local authority was waiting for health personnel to be seconded to Wilkins and Beatrice from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, for an effective coronavirus response.

"The staff we have is not enough. We spoke to the minister, Obadiah Moyo, and he said that he got the go-ahead to unfreeze posts. So we are waiting for them to second nurses, doctors, pharmacists, health officers and other personnel," he said.

Meanwhile, Chonzi said the authorities were looking at ways of increasing the Covid-19 test rate, which is currently at 96 tests per day.

The World Health Organisation has recommended that African countries increase their test rates so as to contain the spread of the disease.

Zimbabwe recently received a donation of 20 000 laboratory diagnostic test kits from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and his Alibaba Foundation, as well as 100 000 face masks and 1 000 protective suits and face shields.

"There is need for more testing, at the moment we have PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test kits and it takes about five hours for results to come out. What we want now are the rapid test kits which give results in about 20 minutes," Chonzi said.

Zimbabwe has eight confirmed positive cases as of yesterday.

The city authorities are however still awaiting funds from government after they received only ZW$100 000, compared to the US$6,7 million they had requested.

"There has been some improvement in support from central government, that should be commended. However, the ZW$100 000 is not enough, we need to transport our staff to work, and give them allowances. We also need to get more protective clothing and other essentials. It would be better maybe if the PPE can be procured by the central government so that we focus on the other requirements," Chonzi said.

Meanwhile, Wilkins Hospital, which has been closed for almost two weeks for renovations, is set to re-open this weekend.

The hospital recorded the first Covid-19 death last week on Monday, with the family of the deceased, Zororo Makamba, fuming over the lack of medical treatment and care at the main isolation centre.

The Makamba family said Zororo failed to get the level of care that could have saved his life as the hospital did not have a ventilator or even oxygen. Furthermore, the family said there was no power socket to plug in a ventilator bought by the Makamba family.

Chonzi told the Zimbabwe Independent that the hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) was now being set up to admit Covid-19 patients who would need close monitoring.

"We are in the process of installing equipment and we now have from the donation of protective clothing and other things in place," Chonzi said.

"We are setting up the ICU and we have five ventilators in place, the oxygen is now flowing and some of it is going to be piped and we have capacity for about 54 of those who will need oxygen. We are also setting up the beds and installing monitors.

"Apart from the ICU, we now have capacity for up to 100 patients and are also looking at creating more space at Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital."

However, the facility is yet to get an intensive care nurse and anesthetist.

The Bulawayo City Council's Health Services Department yesterday said although no cases of Covid-19 had been reported, consumables were urgently needed.

Khulamuzi Nyathi, the assistant director in the department, revealed that a patient with Covid-19 symptoms is currently admitted at Thorngrove Isolation Centre in the city, while awaiting test results.

He said the city was in dire need of consumables such as oxygen, gauges, tubes, masks and about five ventilators to be able to respond to cases that might pop up.

"In terms of the ladder, we are a primary health care provider courtesy of our clinics and other health care facilities that we have as a council. We need the consumables, most importantly, the protective clothing, about 5 000 suits, gloves, masks, and other things so that we can be able to respond to any call that is linked to Covid-19," Nyathi said.

He said the local authority had deployed environmental health officers to follow up on more than 1 000 travellers who entered the country destined for Bulawayo.

"We have been following up on 1 125 travellers who came into the country through ports of entry in and around Bulawayo. We have been checking them to see whether they have any symptoms of Covid-19. I am happy to note that from the reports on these travellers, we have not yet recorded any positive Covid-19 case in the city from those that we have tested.

"Last month alone, we conducted tests on about 50 people under the Rapid Response initiative that the department initiated. Twenty-three of those people fitted the case definition of Covid-19. Twenty-one results came back with negative results while the other two (results) are yet to be sent back from the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory in Harare," Nyathi said.

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