Testing for Covid-19 still erratic in many hospitals

By Br. Alfonce Kugwa

Nurses screen visitors to Muvonde at the gate to the hospital.

The issue of testing for Covid-19 is still critical in many hospitals in Zimbabwe with some hospitals having received fewer test kits not enough even to test their frontline staff. This was revealed at Muvonde Mission Hospital under Gweru Diocese with the hospital having received only 70 test kits against 200 of its staff. 

“The test kits are not enough even to test our health workers and this affects the whole process of getting accurate statistics of Covid-19 cases as most people go untested because of shortage of the necessary kits,” said Sr. Emmah Miti SJI who is the matron at the hospital.

Muvonde Hospital Matron, Sr. Emmah Miti SJI.

Sr. Miti expressed the wish to have the tests done locally so as to avoid delays in processing the results. She said the results take very long before they are returned as they have to send them to Harare via Mvuma District Hospital. She pointed out that by the time the results come, the person would have contaminated more people with the virus.

Muvonde Hospital has experienced four confirmed cases and the people have all recovered. The Medical Supritented at the hospital, Dr. Kudzanai Banda confirmed the delays experienced in obtaining the results saying they usually get them after two or three weeks after which the person would have recovered. 

Dr. Banda stated: “When samples of the few test kits are collected, they take too long before receiving the PCR results. By the time the result come, its either the person has spread the virus, or has recovered or already died because of the time it takes to get the results.”

She bemoaned the stigma associated with Covid-19 saying its all about the myths and misconceptions surrounding the illness, how it is transmitted and when it is being transmitted. She said more needs to be done in terms of helping the nursing staff in the management of Covid-19 cases.

“The more we are exposed to Covid-19, the more we need  that education because it will help us in the way we manage Covid patients. The nurses are very much afraid even with the full PPEs, they still have that fear of taking care of Covid-19 patients. Right now we are working with volunteers to take care of Covid-19 patients,” Dr. Banda said.

Sister In Charge, Matthias Shuro in front of the out patients department.

According to Matthias Shuro, Sister In Charge at Muvonde, the hospital sends specimens to Harare once per week through the district hospital and this highly depends on the district hospital’s transport system.

“If the district hospital fails to provide transport to take specimens to Harare for the next level of screening on that particular week, then the process is compromised as those at the lab of reference want specimens that are less than 5 days old post collection,” said Shuro.

Dr. Banda said it would benefit more people if the test kits would be made available and the tests processed locally. She said the hospital faced a myriad of challenges which include lack of specialised equipment to deal with Covid-19. Although they got three oxygen concentrators, she said the equipment was not enough in this time of the crisis. Everything including PPEs was in short supply, she said. Dr. Banda said they get limited test kits from government making it impossible for the hospital to carry out many tests. She also highlighted lack of incentives for the frontline staff which also affects the care and management of Covid-19 patients as nurses fear for their lives. Dr. Banda highlighted the funding challenges for the hospital which she said has scaled down operations and resulted in the shortage of important drugs and staff shortages.

Dr. Kudzanai Banda, Medical Supritendent at Muvonde Hospital.

“I think we are limited as to what we can do as a hospital because of financial challenges. Staff shortages have also hit the hospital hard and this is attributed to scarcity of accommodation at the hospital,” Dr. Banda stated.

She said very little has been received by the hospital to support its fight against Covid-19 although they hear of donations being made by the government and the Church.

Fear surrounding Covid-19 vaccination is genuine:

Dr. Banda said the fear surrounding vaccination was genuine considering that it’s a new disease and the vaccine itself has not undergone that much research or clinical trial based on the time that has lapsed from the time the disease was identified up to now.  

“Its genuine and natural for people to be querying the vaccination. But on the positive side it is better for people to be vaccinated and get some form of immunity. I haven’t heard of any side effects but I wouldn’t say they are not there. Any type of medication or vaccine can have side effects. Because they are things under research, the potential for side effects is there,” she said. 

Shuro blamed social media reports for raising unfounded myths and misconceptions on the vaccination resulting in fears of being vaccinated. He urged people to make use of information from reliable sources.

Nurses at Muvonde Hospital attend to patients outside the out patients department.

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