Zim: Funding constraints 'hold back speedy diagnosis'

2014-10-16 10:33
A health worker tests temperature for arriving travellers at Harare airport.(News24)

A health worker tests temperature for arriving travellers at Harare airport.(News24)

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Harare – Zimbabweans are a fearful lot these days. False alarms frequently go viral on social media and instant messaging platforms over Ebola infection cases, forcing the country into a panic mode.

International travellers are also beginning to stay away from the country, with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) saying on Wednesday that paid hotel bookings were being cancelled over Ebola fears.

"We have not done a total impact assessment on this Ebola issue but the amount of business lost is most likely to continue growing and surpass the $6m as we approach the holiday season," said Karikoga Kaseke, chief executive officer of ZTA.

Ebola is transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids of a person who is showing symptoms of infection such as fever, aches, vomiting and diarrhoea, or who has recently died of the virus.

The disease has killed close to 4 500 people in West Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that it was likely that new cases of the West African Ebola outbreak in West Africa could rise to 10 000 a week in two months if no immediate means to contain it were found.

Risk of importation

Zimbabwe's health sector has been battling to recover after years of neglect, as the country reels under political and economic crises.

Experts say the country's health delivery system mostly relies on donations. This is likely to pause challenges for its preparedness to contain any possible outbreak of Ebola.

The WHO's country representative to Zimbabwe, David Okello, said the "risk of importation to Zimbabwe was not zero" although it was "still low".

"There is remote possibility of someone travelling to or from hotspots. Those who would have travelled to or from hotspots should be followed up," he said.

Zimbabweans are hoping that their government’s response and preparedness for a potential outbreak would be sufficient to prevent wide-spread prevalence and infections in the country.

Dr Prosper Chonzi, the director for health services in Harare, told News24 that funding constraints were holding back the speedy diagnosis of Ebola as the country currently had to send testing samples to South Africa.

It took more than a week to get results from samples sent to SA for testing after a Harare Polytechnic Student developed signs similar to Ebola. The patient has since been discharged after her test samples tested negative.

"The process of sending to another country has disadvantages. Ideal situation will be to have our own testing centre in Zimbabwe but I know it’s expensive," Dr Chonzi said in a phone interview.

Lack of skilled workers

Wilkins Hospital in Harare has been set up as the referral centre for Ebola cases in Zimbabwe. All suspected patients will be transferred to Wilkins Hospital.

"We were testing our systems. We are not yet 100%. There are lessons learnt and we are now doing evaluations," added Dr Chonzi.

Business Monitor International (BMI) says in its fourth quarter 2014 research on Zimbabwe’s pharmaceutical industry that the country's "health service is heavily reliant on donations, lacks skilled workers and essential medicines".

Health and Childcare Minister, Dr David Parirenyatwa, has repeatedly sought to allay fears amongst Zimbabweans saying the country "has not been affected by this Ebola Virus Disease" just as yet.

"We are equally at risk although that risk is still very low at the moment. The country has put in place alert and preparedness measures to prevent the introduction of the disease in the country," he said.

The health department says it has stationed health workers at the country’s ports of entry while personal protective equipment donated by the World Health Organisation has "been prepositioned" at all airports and borders.

Screening of travellers

Isolation facilities have been set-up at these centres, with the Medicines Sen’s Frontiers (MSF)and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) helping equip the centres.

Mimosa Executive Chairperson Winston Chitando shows Health Minister David Parirenyatwa monitoring equipment for Ebola. (News24)

Mimosa Mining Company, a joint venture platinum mine owned by Impala Platinum and Aquarius Platinum, procured heavy duty infra-red thermo scanners and hand-held infra-red thermometers for use on the three major airports in Zimbabwe to monitor temperatures of travellers arriving in the country.

Zimbabwe has since started screening of travellers as they arrive into the country through checking their passports while their temperatures are simultaneously checked. Authorities in the country have so far put more than 700 travellers – most of them from Nigeria, the DRC and Sierra Leone – under medical surveillance as they were travelling from affected countries.

However, Dr Ruth Labode, who chairs the Zimbabwean parliamentary portfolio committee on health, said her committee had not yet been briefed by the minister on the country’s preparedness to deal with a possible outbreak of Ebola.

"The minister has not given us a report," she said.  

Read more on:    msf  |  who  |  iom  |  david parirenyatwa  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa  |  ebola

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