‘TB and HIV/AIDS programmes must not stop for Covid-19’

Health officials say besides checking for Covid-19, returnees also undergo HIV and Tuberculosis testing to prevent the spread of those diseases.

All returning residents when they come into the country, as per policy have to be tested and quarantined for 21 days.

If they are negative for Covid-19, they are certified free to join families and if positive, steps are taken to isolate them.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care said in light of Covid-19, other programmes related to HIV/AIDS and TB should not stop, as patients must continue receiving such services so they do not default on medication.

“As a ministry, we said looking at the picture of Covid-19 infection in this country, we know that the majority or the bulk of the infections are amongst people returning into the country. There has been very little of local transmission which is good because we don’t want the infection to spread amongst Zimbabweans.

“If someone has an infection then they are encouraged to self-isolate until they are clear. It in itself is good and we are also saying AIDS and TB programmes during the time that we have COVID both for returnees and the local Zimbabwean population must not stop,” said Dr Owen Mugurungi, Director of the AIDS and TB unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

He said returnees were also subjected to HIV and TB testing, apart from Covid-19.

“So when you come back, yes we also screen for TB and HIV. We provide services for antiretroviral therapy and provide drugs if one was already on ARVS and if one has TB we give them TB treatment.

“We also provide you with condoms and other things that you will require in quarantine. The assumption is some couples came back together and have been intimate so we don’t see any value in separating you until and unless someone has been confirmed to be a case of COVID-19,” he said.

Dr Mugurungi noted the ministry had also started giving patients who were ART and TB medication, a minimum of three months supply.

“We’ve had a lockdown and there are challenges of movement, as a ministry, we said instead of you coming every month to collect your medication we can give you a minimum of three months supply medication so that you don’t have to suffer the hassles of travelling during the lockdown,” Dr Mugurungi said.

“We also have accepted that we can have community art refill groups, where if someone lives in a village with three or six more people who used to collect medication together, one person goes and collects on behalf of other colleagues. This reduces the amount of travelling and allows social distancing and decongestion in health facilities so people won’t be afraid that a TB or OI clinic would be full.”

Meanwhile, Dr Mugurungi also advised people not to indulge in casual sexual intercourse, as a means of preventing Covid-19 in line with physical distancing.

This is why returnees are also schooled on sexual health education at the quarantine centres.  

“We provide condoms because we realise there are sexual health needs of the people, as long it within the reality of their situation but this is not to be construed to say that there is somebody X, who is single and meets Y who is single and we now encourage them to come in together. No! Intercourse is ideal for people in a relationship,” he said.

The director urged people to put a priority on social distancing for their protection rather than satisfying sexual needs. 

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