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Covid-19: Spike in community deaths explained

· New variant deceptive

· Facilities, personnel overwhelmed

· High costs of treatment

· Late presentation at hospitals

By Gwendoline Mugauri

In just 25 days, Zimbabwe jumped from 363 Covid-19 deaths to 1075.
The country continues to struggle to contain further spread of the virus, as indications suggest that the more infectious variant first detected in South Africa has found its way into Zimbabwean communities.
Thousands of Zimbabweans returned home from South Africa during the festive holidays and that has become experts’ basis for explaining the spike in both Covid-19 new infections and deaths.
It was, however, notable that there was an equally shocking rise in Covid-19 home deaths, a situation that was exacerbated by the subsequent rise in community level Covid-19 infections in the past 25 days.
World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative to Zimbabwe Dr Alex Gasasira in November warned of a resurgence, following an observation of increased complacency in adhering to Covid-19 preventative measures.
True to this caution, Zimbabwe is currently battling with a cumulative total of 31 646 active Covid-19 cases as the recovery rate fell from 82 percent on January 1, 2021 to 72 percent to date.
Health experts have hinted that the country could already be dealing with a new variant, which presents more complex characteristics that the generality of the citizens do not appreciate.
In an interview with Nhau, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) secretary-general Dr Norman Matara said the spike in Covid-19 deaths at community level is multifactorial but hinges on the dangerously deceptive characteristics of the new variant.
“The rise in cases has put more strain on the little available resources in healthcare centres. Some people will fail to gain access to healthcare services especially for intensive care and high dependency unit care. The lack of access will be because of limited availability of beds and financial access; the bills that people are being charged, especially in the private sector are exorbitant,” said Dr Matara.
“Another cause is late presentation to health institutions. What we are seeing is that this Covid-19 strain is causing what we call a silent hypoxia, meaning after infection, the oxygen concentration of people starts to get low but they do not get any symptoms.
“People will be thinking that they are safe and continue using home remedies, but the situation would have started to deteriorate as the strain progresses. When they eventually get symptoms, it would be too late because they would be very severe. So this in particular is largely causing the increase in deaths at community level.”
Dr Matara added that recent studies have revealed that the new Covid-19 variant detected from South Africa and the United Kingdom is not only highly infectious but it is also highly fatal, which could be the contributing factors to the spike in Covid-19 deaths this January.
He advised members of the public to use home remedies with caution.
“There is no benefit of steaming when you do not have any symptoms. However, if one has mild symptoms, it may assist in relieving the pains. When symptoms are severe its best to seek medical assistance as continuous steaming will not prevent the disease from progressing and this may result in sudden loss of lives,” said Dr Matara.
Zimbabwe Medical Association National President Dr Francis Chiwora echoed the same sentiments, saying high costs of treatment and late presentation to health facilities are the major causes of deaths at community level.
“We have seen a rise in community transmissions, probably fuelled by the festive holidays where people were a little bit relaxed and not taking all the precautions,” said Dr Chiwora.
“This is because the majority was thinking that the pandemic is over, but obviously a second wave was on its way. There are high numbers of deaths at both institutional and community level. The second wave came in surpassing all expectations.
“It’s either the infected people have zero to mild symptoms or they get severely sick and require intensive care treatment.
However, we have seen some people arriving at hospital having deceased already and that is very disturbing.”
Dr Chawora said community deaths were because people are seeking medical treatment too late.
“We are trying to publish centres where people can be tested near their homes at centres within their communities to avoid situations of late presentations. People will be guided accordingly on whether or not they require hospitalisation,” he said.
“It’s very important to seek healthcare as quickly as possible if one feels unwell and has symptoms. It’s far much better than to wait at home thinking maybe I have Covid-19, maybe I do not until you get very sick, only to appear at a healthcare centre when the condition is beyond redemption. This accounts for many of the patients that we eventually lose at community level.”
During the double burial of national hero Morton Dizzy Paul Malianga and heroine Manicaland Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba – President Mnangagwa acknowledged that the new “Covid-19 variant” was “stronger and infectious” while urging people to unite in the fight against further spread of the disease.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association President Enock Dongo is on record calling on Government to equip medical health centres and personnel with adequate personal protective equipment and also review their income in order to strengthen the country’s health service delivery in the face of a crisis.
Faced by a ravaging pandemic, a weak healthcare system that has little resources, occasionally striking healthcare personnel and scandals of churning fake Covid-19 certificates at institutional level – Zimbabwe pins its hopes on an uncertain Covid-19 vaccine rollout. Nhau/Indaba

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