By Luyanduhlobo Makwati
Tens of children living with disabilities housed in care centres around Bulawayo risk contracting the novel coronavirus because of poor living conditions reported in those homes.
A snap investigation by CITE showed that the centres lacked basic personal protective equipment (PPE) and depend on well-wishers for day to day operations.
The lockdown imposed in March to slowdown the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has worsened the situation, it emerged.
Children at the centres have limited access to materials such as face masks and sanitisers recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to minimise transmission of the airborne disease.
The facilities do not have the necessary infrastructure such as beds and isolation rooms to deal with an outbreak of the highly infectious disease or to test inmates.
An official at one of the care homes said they had been struggling to get donations since the lockdown began and this made it difficult for them to ensure the children are living in a safe and secure environment.
“We are facing a serious challenge as we do not have sanitisers, we only received a single thermometer, which was donated by one of our neighbours,” said the official, who requested to remain anonymous.
“Even our resident nurses do not have PPE and we have no masks or sanitisers.
“We understand getting PPEs is a challenge for everyone and our staff members come from these communities, which are affected by the pandemic,” said the official.
He said if a mistake happens and Covid-19 enters their centres, they risk that most of the children might be affected.
Tinotenda Mudarikwa, the director for Rare Diseases and Disabilities Africa Foundation said government and donors should not neglect the less privileged such as children in care homes in the response to Covid-19.
“The government and the corporate world should not forget people in homes especially children,” Mudarikwa said.
“Bulawayo has the following homes that deal with children, Jairos Jiri, Riverside Stimulation centre, KG VI and Sir Humphery Gibbs among others.
“Their right to health should not be compromised at all costs.”
A child expert, Arther Mckenzie said there is need for mass screening of inmates at various care homes across the city because the people that take care of them live in communities and there is potential they could bring in the virus from there.
Zimbabwe whose Covid-19 caseload breached the 2 000 mark recently is beginning to witness a huge number of local transmissions.
Initially most people that tested positive for the flu-like disease were returnees from countries which include South Africa and Botswana.
Mckenzie said cases imported into the care homes could cause a major outbreak among the vulnerable.
“Picture a scenario where a resident nurse contracts the disease in the community and they come into the home unknowingly, that will be catastrophic,” he said.
“So it is important for mass screening to done.”
Mckenzie said it was difficult to deal with some children living disabilities as they had no capacity to comprehend what they are being taught.
“Dealing with children with down syndrome or some form of mental retardation is hard,” he said.
“How do you convince them to wear a mask and teaching them about social distancing, so it is important for the government to do mass testing especially in the homes and limit the visits to the centres like what they did in hospitals and prisons,” said Mckenzie.
An expert in children’s rights, Mandlakhe Maphosa said it is the duty of every citizen to protect the rights of children.
“Covid-19 is a challenge but it is the duty of every citizen to make sure that people are safe from this pandemic,” Maphosa said.
“However, the biggest challenge is that children in centres should not be left out.
“It is the duty of the government to generate and put resources together and help our fellow countrymen.
“Children’s are the future of this nation and their rights should be protected whether, they are in a home care centre or where ever they are.
“There is need for every adult to safeguard these children and give them all the support they deserve.”
Bulawayo has emerged as the Covid-19 epicentre with 786 cumulative cases of which 737 are local transmissions, 49 Imported cases, 360 active cases and 275 recoveries as of July 29, 2020.