BULAWAYO public hospitals selected to take in Covid-19 patients are ill-equipped and lack the necessary medication to tackle the deadly respiratory disease, this publication has established.
Already, the city is a Coronavirus hotspot in the country, with a worrying increase in deaths and new infections.
As of 8 December 2020, Bulawayo had 2 638 cases of which 33 were new, 83 deaths and 587 active cases, while the country recorded 10 912 cases, 303 deaths and 9 062 recoveries.
An investigation by this publication revealed that the city’s quarantine hospitals, have poor facilities that do not meet World Health Organisation’s (WHO) minimum standards.
The city has three public hospitals designated as Covid-19 centres namely, Ekusileni Medical Centre, Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH).
The fourth is the privately owned and Roman Catholic-run Mater Dei Hospital, which charges at least US$3 000 for a patient to be taken in.
Ekusileni Medical Centre is closed and Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital is partially opened as it undergoes renovations.
The recently refurbished Old Bartley Memorial Block (BMB) at UBH is the only functional institution, but it has no medication and patients are forced to purchase from pharmacies.
The situation in the city is bad such that concerned citizens created a trust, I Am for Bulawayo fighting Covid-19 Trust (IAM4BYO), which is led by United Refineries chief executive officer, Busisa Moyo.
“Hospitals are handling COVID-19 cases but have limited capacity and equipment to give severe cases the best possible medical attention. Ekusileni is still being worked on by private donors, NUST, NSSA and Government to ensure that it is appropriately and adequately prepared to treat more serious cases of COVID-19.
The hospital is working closely with UBH under the provincial medical director to ensure that it is functional enough to take in a number of patients. The target is to open with a smaller capacity and grow from there to capacity over time and save lives. As Iam4Byo we are grateful for the donations, contributions received thus far from business, faith-based organizations and the diaspora,” said Moyo.
The trust has made donations to the moribund Ekusileni Medical Centre, a brainchild of late vice president Joshua Nkomo.
So far, the trust has donated ZWL$60 million and purchased 70 beds. The target for the trust is 179 beds.
Each bed costs US$880.
The breakdown for the complete bed set for Ekusileni comprises a bed going for US$350, a mattress at US$85, a hospital bedside locker costing US$185, a hospital bedside step at US$90 and a cardiac table at US$170.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who superintends over the Health Ministry, was in Bulawayo in September to receive a donation from the IAM4BYO trust, and he toured hospitals around the city.
A tour of the city council owned Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital, which is currently under renovation, showed that it is far from completion, although it is admitting patients.
There are no adequate ventilators which are required for people who have been diagnosed with the respiratory disease, as the demand of Covid-19 treatment rises on daily basis in the city.
However, Dr Edwin Sibanda, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) director of Health Services said Thorngrove renovations are almost complete.
“Thorngrove remained open for admission of mild to moderate cases of Covid-19, while the isolation ward underwent renovations to admit severe to critical cases,” said Sibanda.
“The renovations are essentially complete save for the commissioning of the negative pressure system, which can be done as soon as some minor technical issues are cleared. There are 28 oxygen points in the renovated ward though the ward can take 40 patients who are not oxygen dependent,” added Dr Sibanda.
At UBH, the investigation revealed that rogue workers are selling Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs)—such as masks, gloves and coats—one of the WHO demands in order to protect frontline workers attending to Coronavirus patients.
Worsening the situation is that nurses are on a go-slow as the government continues to dilly dally over sprucing their work conditions and salaries.
The government, last month, ordered all nurses to resort to normal working hours, that is 40 hours per week and stop the flexi system, which reduced the hours for the medical personnel.
One nurse from UBH, who declined to be named for fear of victimisation, said they unscrupulously charge people who are admitted at the hospital.
“If you want us to take care of your relative you must motivate us as things are difficult and we do not have adequate PPEs,” said the nurse.
“We wait for the doctors to do their rounds. Otherwise we will be milling around and checking only those who have motivated us, she added.
Violet Moyo, a resident who had a relative who was diagnosed with the respiratory disease said: “My sister had Corona and was admitted at UBH in August. The nurses will not come near her. They maintained a one metre distance when they checked upon her. We had to nurse her and we resolved to take her back home as we were not getting help from the hospital”.
Dr Narcisious Dzvanga, UBH acting chief executive officer, said that the hospital did not have facilities for mechanical ventilation, as the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and High Dependency Unit (HDU) were not yet equipped.
“We currently have 16 patients which include seven males and nine females. For a place to be called an ICU, it just needs oxygen piping, ventilator and nursing staff. This explains the similarity in piping between the ICU and the HDU. So, it means that when you are out there, you can still have your oxygen and suctioning,” said Dzvanga.
The number of cases is likely to increase after the Zimbabwe government opened the land borders to the general travelling public on 1 December after the borders were closed in March to contain the spread of the virus.
December is usually a busy month as people travel to and from Zimbabwe for the holidays mostly from South Africa and Botswana.
South Africa, home to millions of Zimbabweans, has recorded 821,889 Covid-19 cases and 22,432 deaths.
The water crisis in Bulawayo and the reluctance to adhere to Covid-19 health regulations such as washing hands, wearing a face mask, and keeping social distance, could also fuel a rise in cases.
Meanwhile, Mpilo Hospital acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya warned that the re-opening of borders will exacerbate Covid-19 cases in the city.
“The re-opening of borders is just adding petrol to a fire. Cases will spike during Christmas and New Year. A lot of people from Bulawayo are in neighbouring countries,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“Now that the borders have been re-opened and there are a lot cultural and social connections between the people from this city and South Africa, a lot of Injivas will come here for Christmas and they are going to bring Corona here. Just yesterday, South Africa recorded 4 000 new infections,” added Prof Ngwenya.
Acting Provincial Medical Director Welcome Mlilo did not respond to questions sent to him and he didn’t take calls.