‘Byo has enough Covid-19 beds’

Acting Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director (PMD), Dr Welcome Mlilo, says the city has enough beds in public hospitals to cater for Covid-19 patients, as a certain percentage may require hospitalisation.

There have been concerns that with Zimbabwe’s healthcare system in shambles coupled by a deepening economic crisis, rising coronavirus infections would overwhelm hospitals.

But Dr Mlilo explained that when it comes to Covid-19, the trend is 80 percent of people who have coronavirus are asymptomatic, meaning they do not show symptoms and may not require hospitalisation.

“Yes we have few resources but we are not overwhelmed as a city,” he said in an interview with CITE.

“Firstly, we have enough beds because no one needing admission has been turned away in Bulawayo. We still have vacant Covid-19 beds. Secondly, we have two treatment centres that are open, the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital and they are not at 100 percent full.

“UBH is a 42-bed facility, at most, it has gone up to 25 to 30 beds but not all beds have been taken. Thorngrove has come online and will take care of patients who are mild to moderate while UBH will cater to patients with severe cases as that is where there are specialist doctors.”

As of January 26, 2021, Bulawayo has 453 active cases of people with Covid-19.

The total number of active Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe is 7 067.

Dr Mlilo explained 15 percent of people with Covid-19 would present at hospital with mild to moderate conditions, whereas some portion will only require some “sort of medical care.”

“Some of the medical interventions these 15 percent will require may be someone having a headache and be given paracetamol. Someone can say ‘my chest is painful’ and be given pills to take at home. Only a portion of that 15 percent is admitted in hospital,” he said.

The health official said from the 15 percent who presented the mild to moderate conditions, five percent would be severe or critical.

“Let’s be practical, we can calculate the five percent of the number of active cases that we currently have and check that against the total number of beds that are ready. When I say Covid-19 ready beds, I am only talking about beds in the public institutions and note, not everyone who has Covid-19 requires hospitalisation. Then we have beds at private institutions and some people who are well off will go to Mater Dei, Corporate 24 and Hillside Premier,” Dr Mlilo said.

He, however, said that the fees charged at private institutions were above his purview but stressed that “treatment for Covid-19 at public hospitals was free.”

Dr Mlilo said there were more cases of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe because the variant first identified in South Africa was more infectious.

“We prefer to say the variant is more transmissible because it is easier to pass on that’s why we have more Covid-19 cases,” he noted.

The challenge that Dr Mlilo hinted at was the number of ventilators available at public hospitals.

“I am not sure how many ventilators are available in public hospitals and the ICU portion of UBH is not yet open but I know we will be receiving another batch from USAID. I have to check,” said the acting PMD.

The Acting PMD said people must adhere to preventative measures.

“We don’t want to talk about ventilators because that means people would be very severe but we want to talk about people preventing Covid-19,” he said.

Dr Mlilo urged people to seek treatment when they suspected they had Covid-19 symptoms.

“People must not steam at home alone without expert advice. If people feel unwell, please seek treatment. This is important because people want to take shortcuts and that results in bad outcomes. Don’t self administer medicines like Zumbani before you seek advice. You can do this after you see a doctor who will monitor you. Don’t wait before it’s bad,” he pleaded.

Director of City’s Health Service Department, Dr Edwin Sibanda concurred that Bulawayo had enough Covid-19 beds.

He said only 20 percent of people with Covid-19 showed symptoms, whereas 15 percent would show mild to moderate symptoms and five percent present as severe to critical.

“In essence, only five percent of people with Covid-19 will require admission then the other percentages are what we actually call walking wounds. Take note there is a difference between virulent and infectious, this coronavirus variant is more infectious and not virulent, where there is a severity of diseases,” Dr Sibanda said. 

The health services director noted that Bulawayo had a 60 to 70 Covid-19 bed capacity and not once had they been full.

“Right now, Thorngrove has seven patients. I am yet to receive the total number of admitted patients by end of the day. Let’s also appreciate that UBH is still under renovation and there may be more beds. Thorngrove has a capacity of between 20 to 50 beds. 20 is more comfortable when we squeeze we can go up to 40 or 50. What is unfortunate is ventilation, Thorngrove has one ventilator that has not been used as no need has arisen,” he said.

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