The United Nations has condemned the poor standard of Zimbabwe’s quarantine facilities, amid skyrocketing cases of the Covid-19 pandemic in quarantine centres and massive looting of funds by government officials and people linked to the political elite.
The deplorable state of the quarantine facilities as well as a lack of standard operating procedures have put thousands of lives at risk.
A report titled Assessment of Covid-19 Quarantine Facilities in Zimbabwe compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) together with the Health and Child Care ministry from 17 to 21 May 2020 concluded that the centres are not operating optimally.
By Wednesday this week, Zimbabwe had 320 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with the bulk of them being returnees under isolation at quarantine centres.
“There is lack of guidance of how the facilities should be operating and the minimum requirements are not clearly spelt out. There is no guidance on IPC (infection prevention and control) issues at the facilities. Generally, PPEs (personal protective equipment) are in short supply,” the report reads.
“In some facilities, roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined. The workers lack basic information and knowledge on Covid-19. The occupants are not practicing maximum safety measures to avoid or limit transmission within the facilities.”
The report also noted lack of adherence to social distancing, poor hygiene, shortage of staff, lack of medical care and incoherent data collection among other poor practices.
In accordance with Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020, all returnees are supposed to undergo mandatory quarantine for 21 days. However, the appalling conditions at quarantine centres have resulted in some returnees escaping from the facilities while protests and clashes have been experienced at others over delays in testing and discharging the returnees.
Every returnee is supposed to be tested on admission and upon discharge, but the UN report noted that in 100% of the facilities the results came very late, if at all.
“This results in the occupants staying without knowing their Covid-19 status and prolongs their stay in the facility,” it reads.
The UN made several recommendations, including screening and testing of staff working at the centres, mobilising adequate sample collection supplies and ensuring equitable distribution to facilities, developing and distributing standard operating procedures and guidelines for the centres, training of staff, and the provision of adequate supplies for infection prevention and control.
The damming report comes amid revelations of massive corruption in the procurement of Covid-19 materials with protective clothing and equipment being been sold to the government at inflated prices.
Among the companies implicated in the scandals are Drax International, which has been linked to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s family and Jaji Investments, also linked to the first family.
The levels of corruption caught the attention of South Africa opposition leader Julius Malema, who yesterday described it as cruel and evil.
“We applaud the fight against corruption and looting of public funds going on in Zimbabwe. It is cruel and evil for anyone regardless of who they are to steal money meant to help citizens fight Covid-19. There is nothing revolutionary or patriotic about thieving. Pasi neMbavha! (down with thieves”, he wrote on Twitter yesterday.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission this week questioned National Pharmaceutical company (NatPharm) officials, together with Finance permanent secretary George Guvamatanga and Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe officials.
During the UN assessment, a total of 37 quarantine centres were evaluated. Of these, 34 belong to the Ministry of Education, one to the Forestry Commission, one is a hotel and another centre belongs to the Civil Service Commission.
The facilities had a total capacity of 5 790 beds. At the time of the assessment visit, there were a total of 1 889 occupants constituting 33% occupancy.
Among other concerns raised by the UN were the shortages of staff including healthcare workers overwhelming the available staff and creating a lack of accountability.
“Residents do their own laundry, save for blankets and linen, used blankets are wrapped in plastic bags awaiting off-site laundry services, however, none of the laundry has been collected to date.
“The facilities requesting for guidance and support on how to do the final laundry of these items. At some facilities, cleaners were observed doing laundry without PPE,” the report reads.
“Only 43% of the Quarantine Centres (QCs) assessed reported that they routinely clean and disinfect surfaces. Only 62 percent had running water. Only 30% of the QCs assessed had provisions for PPE for the staff.
“Only 41% of QCs assessed were implementing physical distancing recommendations i.e. maintenance of at least 1 metre between quarantined individuals.
“Only 38% of QCs assessed were providing medical services for conditions other than Covid-19 while 24% of QCs assessed reported having access to ambulance in case there was need to refer any of the quarantined individuals.
“Only 48,6% of the facilities have a designated person responsible for data management with 46% doing the routine data collection. There are no standard tools to collect data and this varied from province to province and from site to site.”
According to the UN assessment report, the quarantine facilities with single or double rooms have resorted to accommodating half the number under normal circumstances.
The decision was made to observe the “metre apart” rule to ensure social distancing and prevent crowding in the rooms.
Occupants were not gender mixed, and there were special provisions for people living with disability.