Doctor raises red flag on COVID-19 fight

A ZAMBIAN frontline doctor in the fight against COVID-19 has raised a red flag saying the country’s health system has no capacity to handle a surge in cases.

Meanwhile, two health personnel from Chilenje Level 1 Hospital have been infected by the coronavirus. In total, four citizens tested positive bringing COVID cases to 61 with three deaths.

The doctor said Brought-In-Dead (BID) and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) cases have slightly gone up recently which, he says, is cause for worry for health officials.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, observed that Zambia’s numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases may not reflect the actual infections because there were “not enough testing kits” as opposed to what is seen in countries where almost all are tested.

“An example is the Kafue testing where the ratio of those tested and population is almost less than 10 per cent of those we suspect to be exposed,” the doctor said.

“Further research shows that patients exhibiting coronavirus symptoms walk in the University Teaching Hospital to get tested but end up leaving out of frustration because of how long it takes to test -roughly 30 minutes to one hour waiting time.”

The doctor, who is not permitted to speak to the media, feared the coronavirus situation in Zambia “could soon turn ugly”.

The doctor revealed that the COVID-19 centre at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) had only one ventilator while the one at Levy Mwanawasa University Teaching Hospital also had one.

“So if a high profile patient like a minister gets infected and their situation requires that they be put on ventilator they will be the priority even if there are other patients who also require to be on ventilators,” the doctor said.

The doctor explained that, the entire UTH only has 12 ventilators, 10 of which are in the hospital’s main ICU room, one in the emergency and accident department while the last is in the COVID-19 centre.
“None of our government clinics in Lusaka have ventilators because they have no ICU wards so you can imagine what will happen when our situation becomes ugly,” the doctor said.

The doctor also feels that frontline personnel like nurses and police officers are not being protected enough.

“Doctors in these hospitals don’t have enough protective wear, sometimes they are even swabbing patients while just clad in a simple gown. People are coming through to be tested and interacting with health personnel who are not wearing protective gear and sometimes it is taking more than an hour to attend to a person who has come to be tested, some end up getting frustrated and leave without being tested yet they have symptoms,” the doctor revealed. “The inflow of traffic in the police stations is just like that of the hospital, so our police officers are also frontline staff who are at risk of getting infected and in turn spread to others so the need to be protected, they need protective gear. Police officers are the ones who arrest people in the compounds, they enforce the law and they pick dead bodies so they need protective gear which they currently don’t have.”

The doctor felt there wasn’t enough sensitisation on the coronavirus preventive measures adding that while many stakeholders had come on board, they were more concerned about being seen to donate than to make an impact to curb the spread.

The doctor said most coronavirus messages were being made in English leaving out the majority of people that did not understand the language.

“People are not showing the seriousness they need to show because they don’t understand. You cannot fear what you don’t know. We need more sensitisation messages in the language that people can understand. For sensitisation to be effective, we should make sure markets are closed during the cleanings – people are not allowed to come to the market to avoid crowds during that time or do it as early as 04:00 to 05:00 am. Do trainings to focal people in the community like religious leaders, chairmen and women or market leaders in markets done in small groups,” the doctor urged. “Radio DJs and presenters must attempt to speak local languages when they talk about the coronavirus.”

On April 5, The Mast sent a questionnaire to the Ministry of Health over Zambia’s preparedness should cases rise. To date the Ministry has not responded.

Among the questions include: [Hon. Minister: How many tests are being conducted on a daily basis and where are they being conducted? How many test kits do we have and how many are needed? Does the MoH have adequate quantities of swabs? Are we testing enough suspected cases? Does the ZNPHI have guidelines for all expected interventions to be implemented? Have all healthcare officials been trained in infection control specifically related to COVID-19? Do we have enough personal protective clothing for our frontline health workers? Do we have enough bed space at hospitals and quarantine centres? What has ZNPHI projected in terms of number of expected infections? – (i) Of these, how many will require hospitalisation? (ii)How many will require quarantine only? (iii) How much more bed space at hospitals around the country have been created in anticipation of COVID-19 patients? (iv) How many hospitals have a fully functioning ICU in the country? (v) Have all needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment been delivered? (vi) When do we expect the cases to peak and what additional support at that time will be needed?”

Meanwhile, updating the nation on the COVID-19 situation yesterday, health minister Chitalu Chilufya announced that a nurse and medical licentiate from Chilenje hospital along with two other people in Kafue had tested positive of the coronavirus in the last 24 hours.

The four new cases bring the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Zambia to 61.

“The two are our own medical staff from Chilenje Hospital who were managing the patient who died. One nurse and one medical licentiate,” Dr Chilufya revealed.

Zambia conducted 397 tests and out of those four were recorded positive.

The minister also announced the death of the 19-year-old woman who tested positive of the coronavirus at Chilenje saying doctors had tried their best to save her life after she attempted suicide.

Dr Chilufya explained that following up on the positive case in Chilenje, 30 contacts of the late patient from within and outside the hospital were tested and the two health personnel who handled her were found to be positive.

In Kafue, Dr Chilufya said out of 46 tests, two people, one for Kafue Estates and another from Kafue Railways, tested positive.

The minister said after conducting a mapping exercise it had been found that Kafue and Lusaka were the sources of the coronavirus in the country.

Dr Chilufya said it was possible to curb further spread of the coronavirus if people adhered to the instructions from President Edgar Lungu of staying home, avoiding gathering and handshakes while maintaining social distance.

COVID-19 has claimed three lives in Zambia while 33 have recovered and 26 remain admitted.

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