Bulawayo’s newly acquired status as the epicentre of Covid-19 local transmission cases has reignited concerns on the readiness of local hospitals to confront an inevitable surge that could overwhelm the already feeble health care system.
A surge of 231 new cases in the past 24 hours took the city’s total to 419 confirmed cases.
384 of those cases are local transmissions while imported cases are 35.
The new infections make the bulk of the 273 new cases announced by the Ministry of Health and Child Care on Thursday bringing Zimbabwe’s total to 1 362.
This comes at a time when the government said it would impose localised lockdowns in hotspots such as Bulawayo to stem the outbreak.
But Bulawayo is much less prepared evidenced by the strike of nurses who are demanding salaries pegged in United States dollars and a weaker health care system.
The two Covid-19 designated health institutions, Ekusileni Medical Centre and Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital are still not ready for admissions despite starting renovations after the pandemic broke out in Zimbabwe in March.
Ekusileni was identified as a national referral centre for Covid-19 patients while the city council-run Thorngrove Hospital will serve local patients.
In an interview with CITE, Ekusileni Chief Executive Officer, Dr Absalom Dube, said progress at the hospital was hampered by funding challenges as Treasury was yet to release funds to speed up renovations.
“We are trying to make progress with what we have. Yes, well-wishers come in with a few items but Treasury has to release the funds. There was money which was released in June but we didn’t use it as it had to go back, then the government ordered the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), to release the money,” he said.
“We had a strategy and if we had the funds we would have been finished by now.”
Dr Dube cited certain critical key areas that the government was aware of when it came to availing the funding.
“It’s just a matter of time if funds are availed we can finish renovations in four weeks. The first disbursement that came was ZWL$7 million while the total cost of the project was projected to be ZWL$140 million. But from my own calculations ZWL$50 million can enable Ekusileni to open a start of 50 beds in four weeks,” he claimed.
Director of Health Services in Bulawayo, Dr Edwin Sibanda said rehabilitation work at Thorngrove Hospital was still incomplete despite projections it would be completed by June 30, 2020.
The rehabilitation of the hospital started on April 22,2020 at a reported cost of $74million.
Dr Sibanda, however, could not say more and referred questions to the Acting Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director, Dr Welcome Mlilo.
Dr Mlilo said, “Renovations are ongoing and we expect project completion by month end.”
Sources at Thorngrove Hospital told CITE it would take more than two weeks to complete the renovations, meaning the institution could only be ready at the earliest in August.
“Painters only started painting today, while the hospital has not installed the oxygen gas, as we are waiting for the components from South Africa. The floor epochs are not yet done but the hospital ceilings are about to be done,” sources said.
Upon hearing news that Bulawayo was now the epicentre, residents said the acceleration in local Covid-19 cases remained the main challenge.
“The pandemic would clearly grow. We demand the government to be more responsible and own up to its mandate to citizens by affording provisions for people to sail through this pandemic,” said Nozipho Moyo, a local activist, who is also Executive Director at Africa Kiburi, a regional human rights movement.
Early this week, senior doctors wrote to the Acting Minister of Health and Child Care Amon Murwira giving him notice of their intent to withdraw their services.
In the letter, senior doctors confirmed it was difficult to continue offering services due to a number of challenges such as lack of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The senior doctors lamented the low rate of Covid-19 testing, shortages of drugs and sundries.
“We note with concern allegations of massive fraud in the procurement of PPE, drugs, sundries, amounts which would have made a life changing difference to institutions,” they said.