By Fr. Limukani Ndlovu, Archdiocese of Bulawayo
and Felicia Machingura, Gweru Diocese
As reported in the (New Zimbabwe, 4 August 2020), President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed his Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as the Minister of Health and Child Care (MOHCC) replacing his predecessor who had been sacked due to allegations of involvement in a drug tender scandal. Media reports show that the president’s decision to deploy Mr C. Chiwenga as minister of health was motivated by the urgent need to stabilise, restructure and reform the national health delivery system so as to better cope with the challenges of the global Covid-19 pandemic and in the process ensure a quick turnaround in national health care. The public’s expectations were that, consistent with the president’s intentions, government would bring quality health facilities and services to the vicinity of citizens, motivate the health personnel by creating a favourable environment in terms of working conditions.
Following his appointment as health minister, Mr Chiwenga emphatically assured the nation that the health sector will never be the same again and that the country’s health sector was geared for a strong bounce-back. He said that efforts were under way in reforming the country’s health delivery system. Another key point to recon with was the need to rebuild the health structures, in terms of strengthening the village/community to health facility referral systems. For the success of this, he called for the citizens to work together for the common good.
Taking it from the minister’s statement of assurance (New Day, 13 Aug. 2020), one of the most important structures in the fight against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic is the functionality, equipping and support of the village health workers all over the country. There is need to establish Village-Based Covid Task Force (VBCTF) which will work in close collaboration with the District Rapid Response Teams (DRRT) and Environmental Health Technicians (EHTs) based in the villages. To avoid duplicity, the proposed VBCTs can come from the existing Village Health Workers (VHWs). They will need to be properly trained specifically on tackling Covid related issues. The VBCTF should be properly equipped with counselling and conflict resolution skills. They should also be provided with sufficient PPE kits as well as equipping them with the correct information on the pandemic whilst ensuring that they are kept up to date with new trends. When properly enabled, they may train households on home-based management of Covid and support both the sick and bereaved families.
Making full use of Village-Based Covid Task Force may also gradually reduce the workload in the health sector. This critical structure will save as a development driver at local level and contribute towards addressing some of the challenges identified in Zimbabwe’s health system. They will play an effective role in raising community awareness regarding the pandemic. Furthermore, the VBCTF will strengthen community and facilitate proper linkages within the line ministry.
Government may adopt or modify programs such as the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) where the development arm is funding local partners who are working with the community-based cadres so as to curb the scourge of the pandemic. Development partners including church-based organizations may assist government in its frantic efforts to contain the pandemic.
Convergence of families to pay their last respects during funeral wakes to console the bereaved family members is proving to be the main super-spreader of the pandemic. In their innocence, villagers, motivated by both good values of “ubuntu/hunhu” and out of fear of being abandoned by neighbours would camp even in big numbers at the residence of the deceased, before, during and after burial proceedings. At times some families do not disclose that the cause of death was Covid related so as not to scare people away. Social distancing and other preventive measures are often ignored at most funerals when reason is overtaken by emotion.
Since funerals have been considered to be super spreaders of the novel virus it is high time to adjust our methods of supporting each other when death strikes. In this regard it is of paramount importance to capacitate the VBCTF so that they assist communities to adhere to the basic health standards through advocacy so as to reduce transmission.