Health officials scale up efforts against Coronavirus breakout

Health officials in the Matabeleland region have noted that more can be done to improve surveillance, detection, confirmation as well as treatment of any possible cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus, as they scale up preventative efforts in the country’ southern region.

This emerged during a tour of entry ports and health facilities Friday in Bulawayo and Matabeleland respectively, led by Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obadiah Moyo, officials from the ministry, provincial medical directors and clinical directors from local hospitals.

Health officials said they had activated rapid response teams and would rely on existing guidelines used previously to ward off Ebola, SARS and Cholera while their response would be hinged on the effectiveness of Thorngrove Infectious Disease Hospital in dealing with the virus.

At the Joshua Nkomo International Airport, officials have put in place measures to detect the virus, where upon arrival, travellers are subjected to thermo-detection and screenings to check if they have high temperatures or any fever.

Airport health officials have also modified a room at its transport section, a few metres from the airport, as its primary isolation centre while one waits to be transferred to the main centre at Thorngrove hospital.

But the airport’s isolation room is yet to be equipped with medical sundries with officials only finishing the painting.

At Thorngrove Hospital, Bulawayo’s Director of Health Services, Dr Edwin Sibanda noted any cases of the Coronavirus would be admitted at its TB wing that is after evacuating TB patients.

He said the wing had two rooms, with its own ablution services and if cases went up to 10, they would be moved to a holding centre.

“We can only open the isolation ward if numbers exceed 10 but personnel have few masks and need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and support for laboratory use.”

Dr Patrick Ncube, concurred adding that in terms of manpower, Thorngroove was prepared with relevant team on standby and expertise, but had shortages of material resources.

“We need fuel, state of the art thermometers and improve case detection in our laboratories, which need to be capacitated,” he said.

United Bulawayo Hospital Acting CEO, Dr Narcisius Dzvanga, said if there was a case of coronavirus or suspected case thereof, the staff would follow previous guidelines of dealing with Ebola and SARS until there were further instructions from the parent ministry.

“We do have an infectious control unit were staff was trained how to gown for Ebola and SARS, we will adopt the same dress code in a corona event. UBH will make use of a side ward on the ground floor for isolation, as its previous infectious hospital is now a state of the art pediatric orthopedic hospital to be opened around April. We will liaise with BCC to provide an ambulance to handover to Thorngrove,” Dr Dzanga said.

Mpilo Acting Clinical Director, Dr Xolani Ndlovu, said the hospital already has a temporary isolation area – a disused pediatrics theatre room, separate from the rest of the pediatrics unit.

“Luckily the doctors are back at work from their incapacitation, so we have personnel for medical interventions. We have a very efficient prevention control team also trained for Ebola, SARS and is capable of handling corona outbreaks. Mpilo has an institutional ambulance for evacuation to Thorngrove,” he said.

Mater Dei Hospital Administrator, Maureen Jamieson, said the private centre was led by an active consultant capable of dealing with Ebola and Cholera.

Acting Provincial Director for Matabeleland South, Dr Norbet Singini, said the province had five ports of entry, with two major ones -Plumtree and Beitbridge Border Post.

“We have adequate staff, having lessons learnt from the Cholera and EBOLA outbreaks. At Beitbridge border, there are eight environmental health officers manning the port of entry but we need more staff.

“At Plumtree, screening of patients has already started using clinical and operating standard from suspected cases of corona. In terms of commodities, we have PPE equipment that we last used during Ebola and are still available. We are yet to receive more PPE from NatPharm. Each hospital has a dedicated vehicle available in an unlikely case that can be transferred from ports of entry to an identified isolation centre then to Bulawayo where we also made arrangements for laboratory use to send samples to central hospital,” he said.

Provincial Medical Director for Matabeleland North, Dr Purgie Chimberegwa, stated Hwange had four entry points and an airport.

“Teams have sensitised districts and airport authority teams on standard procedures to screen travellers from outside, especially those with a history of travelling to China or those countries reported to have coronavirus,” he said.

“If you are suspected to have the virus, you fill special forms and if you don’t have signs and symptoms, we let you go but we take your details and give to respective authorities where you are going to reside. Both Bulawayo and Victoria Falls airports have quarantine room but our teams still need to build capacity, have more people trained, as more can be done if at all there is case of corona.”

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