Zimbabwe healthcare system struggles with Covid-19 surge

By Ray Ndlovu

(Bloomberg) – Hospitals in Zimbabwe are reeling from a renewed surge in the coronavirus, with a shortage of beds and equipment threatening to overwhelm the public health system.

The Health Ministry reported a record 1,365 new cases of Covid-19 and 34 deaths, bringing the cumulative number of infections to 17,194 with 418 fatalities. Authorities at the weekend imposed a 30-day strict lockdown, closing all the country’s land borders and shuttering gyms, restaurants and bars.

“The strain on the hospitals comes from our limited bed capacity,” Norman Matara, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said by phone. Even “a small increase in cases puts pressure” on the healthcare system, he said.

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The situation is exacerbated by shortages of medicines and intermittent strikes by nurses and doctors over pay and working conditions.

The country’s biggest public hospital Parirenyatwa is the only one in the capital, Harare, still admitting the most severe cases of the virus. The institution is using two wards, with a bed capacity of less than 25, Matara said.

Private hospitals are also reeling from limited capacity, with those facilities requiring bookings and upfront payments of $2,500 to $5,000, he said.

Solwayo Ngwenya, the acting chief executive officer at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, the second biggest city, said facilities were on the verge of collapse. “Those Health Ministry figures indicate the starting point of a coming catastrophe,” Ngwenya said in an interview.

Several calls to Agnes Mahomva, the chief coordinator of the national response to Covid-19 in the office of the President, didn’t immediately connect. Jasper Chimedza, the permanent secretary in the Health Ministry, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.

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