Harare-Public and private hospitals are now requesting patients to produce Covid-19 test results upon admission under a new policy in motion which is likely to see only privileged citizens having access to the healthcare facilities with the majority of poor people dying at home as a result of the exorbitant costs involved, News Day reports.
This development was revealed by the deputy minister of Health and Child Care John Mangwiro when he was questioned by Masvingo senator Tichinani Mavetera (MDC Alliance), who is also a medical practitioner, on Thursday in Parliament over the new policy.
Mutevera said the directive could cause more home deaths because not all people are able to meet the demands of the costs for the private Covid-19 tests. Currently, Covid-19 test costs are ranging from US$25 to $100.
“Is the ministry aware of what is happening in both private and public health institutions where we have experienced many non-Covid-19 deaths because the policy is that one cannot be admitted when they do not have Covid-19 test results?
”Patients are asked to produce Covid-19 test results first. I have evidence of the silent deaths of our citizens. For instance, for paediatrics, they ask for Covid-19 test results for the child and the mother who will be accompanying the child. That will be a double cost for the two and the ministry must investigate the manner in which patients are being handled,” Mutevera said.
In response, Mangwiro said they will not cease providing treatment to people while they are waiting for their results.
“We have rapid testing kits and a few testing kits and centres, but we are improving on the figures. We encourage bunching and sampling to be done in the shortest possible time. We need to ensure that those with diabetes, hypertension, asthma are treated for Covid-19 because if they have Covid-19 they are in more danger. However, while they await Covid-19 results, we do not stop treating people,” Mangwiro said.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary Norman Matara expressed great concerns over people suffering from chronic illness saying that they are now being neglected as the health sector shifts its attention to the prevailing pandemic.
“We have raised concerns that we have shifted our focus to the Covid-19 pandemic, neglecting patients suffering from other chronic illnesses that are preventable. Patients suffering from chronic illnesses like diabetes and other diseases that need monitoring are finding it hard since most hospitals have closed outpatients seeking medical attention. We are urging the government to monitor such cases because we cannot afford to have patients suffering from chronic illnesses losing their lives from preventable diseases.
“We have also verified reports of pregnant mothers who are placed in quarantine centers. They are only being tested for COVID-19 but these mothers need to be given ante-natal healthcare to prevent mortality rate. So we urge the government to monitor that so as to reduce the death of patients from controlled chronic illnesses,” Matara said.
Itai Rusike a representative of the Community Working Group on Health executive director rebuked the new policy.
“If by any chance there are health workers demanding Covid-19 health certificates from patients visiting health institutions before they can be attended to, it is illegal, unethical, and unacceptable as it is not an official position of the Health and Child Care ministry.
“It is the responsibility of the government to meet the cost of testing the potential clients visiting health facilities if it suspects that they may be Covid-19 patients as a precautionary measure to protect the health workers,” he said.
Itai Rusike added:” Because of the fear of coronavirus, some health staff is becoming extra worried about their own safety as most of them do not have adequate personal protective equipment. As a result, people coming to a health facility with a cough or a fever are seen suspiciously. This has a negative effect on the health-seeking behavior as the majority poor may not afford the cost of COVID-19 testing and hence may just get sick and die at home. We, therefore, urge the Health Ministry to investigate the allegations and put in place measures to stop the practice and make sure that there is universal access to healthcare services even during the Covid-19 crisis.”
To date, Zimbabwe has conducted 35 538 tests comprising 21 202 rapid diagnostic tests (RDT) and 15 336 PCR.