17 March 2020
CORONAVIRUS SCARE: GOVT RESPONDS TO ZLHR’S CONCERNS
THE Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) has responded to concerns raised by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) over threats posed by coronavirus in Zimbabwe and assured people that it has taken bold steps and stern measures including stepping up its preparedness in case coronavirus cases are recorded in the southern African country.
The MoHCC made the assurances in a letter written to ZLHR on Monday 9 March 2020 in response to the human rights organisation’s request to be furnished with information on the health threats posed by coronavirus in Zimbabwe.
In its letter written to MoHCC on Monday 2 March 2020, ZLHR through its lawyer Godfrey Mupanga, had expressed concern that Zimbabwe is under considerable threat from coronavirus given the extensive human and air traffic between Zimbabwe and its neighbours, China and other countries, where the virus has been detected.
ZLHR also cited reports published by the mainstream media suggesting that a case of the coronavirus had been recorded at Wilkins Hospital in Harare, which at that time had not been publicly confirmed or refuted by MoHCC as the responsible authority.
In view of the exposure of Zimbabwe to the coronavirus and the country’s seriously compromised public health system and that MoHCC’s website had no information posted on coronavirus, ZLHR protested against the ministry’s indifference to the real threat of the deadly virus.
ZLHR said MoHCC has fundamental obligations ascribed to it by provisions of the Constitution, which include providing reliable information to members of the public confirming the presence of coronavirus in Zimbabwe including the number of infections that have been seen at health centres across the country and the places where these patients have been to where they might have contracted the virus, or, correct any erroneous information that might have been published regarding the presence of the virus within the country’s borders that might cause public consternation and possible public panic.
In response to ZLHR’s letter, Dr Agnes Mahomva, the Permanent Secretary in MoHCC, denied allegations that the ministry is indifferent to the coronavirus threat and assured people that the ministry is taking the public health emergency seriously and will continue to implement heightened surveillance and a risk communication and community engagement plan.
MoHCC, Dr Mahomva said, is implementing stern measures to intensify surveillance for coronavirus to minimise the chances of importation of coronavirus into Zimbabwe including stepping up government’s preparedness in order to minimise the morbidity and mortality should coronavirus spread to the southern Africa country.
Dr Mahomva disclosed that MoHCC is currently facing challenges which include limited resources to implement the National Preparedness and Response Plan, which she claimed was fuelling the perception that the ministry is not doing as much to prepare for an outbreak of coronavirus.
MoHCC said it is issuing some Situation Reports and Updates which should be treated as official communication by the ministry.
Dr Mahomva said all coronavirus suspected cases are being tested at the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory while MoHCC is also working with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa to facilitate inter-laboratory comparability of results.
MoHCC said it had designated Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital and Thorngroove Infectious Diseases Hospital as the main isolation centres for coronavirus while other centres are being identified and set up.
MoHCC, Dr Mahomva said, is in the process of procuring some coronavirus Rapid Diagnostic Test kits for use at Zimbabwe’s ports of entry.
Dr Mahomva said MoHCC had lost all educational material on coronavirus posted on the ministry’s website owing to challenges experienced by government’s internet service provider which hosts the ministry’s website while efforts were being made to restore the functionality of the portal.
In the meantime, Dr Mahomva said information encompassing coronavirus prevention messages as recommended by the World Health Organisation is being disseminated on MoHCC’s social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
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