HomeStandard StyleHealth talk: Let’s be proactive to deal with public health disasters

Health talk: Let’s be proactive to deal with public health disasters

 Dr Johannes Marisa
We might be witnessing the end of the Covid-19 pandemic after its advent at the end of 2019 in China and eventually being declared a national disaster in Zimbabwe in March 2020.

More than 6,3 million people succumbed to the virus globally with Africa losing about 240 000 people.

Prominent people lost their lives including renowned doctors who tried their best to subdue the toxic effects of the virus.

Today, there is concern about the monkey pox virus which is now affecting more than 21 countries.

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Since then, Europe has been witnessing an outbreak of the monkey pox with countries like Germany, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Netherlands, Sweden and France recording cases. The United States of America and Canada have recorded cases and fear and chills are now gripping the globe.

Outbreaks come and go, but they have capacity to leave a trail of destruction. Many lives are lost, the economy becomes battered while social life is annihilated.

Public health measures put in place are a thorn in the flesh for many people. Life can be upside down for many people.

However, there are some lessons that we get from such outbreaks that can shape health service delivery in any country.

The health sector in Zimbabwe has been marred by incessant strikes, poor infrastructure, shortage of equipment and resources, understaffing, untenable laws and regulations, low investment drive, maladministration and general poor financing.

The consequences are very clear: poor health service delivery which cannot withstand outbreaks or other medical emergencies. For real, Covid-19 has taught us great lessons and correcting some of the mistakes will significantly improve our health service delivery.

Africa demonstrated to the world that it is a solid continent that can fend off any outbreaks and can even perform better than many of the developed nations.

Peru lost around 213 000 people from Covid-19, slightly less than 254 000 people who succumbed to Covid-19 from Africa as a continent.

Covid-19 brought some positives which include the following:

  • The realisation that healthcare workers are critical workers at all times notwithstanding times of outbreaks. Healthcare workers should have their grievances considered as they face risks daily in their lines of duty. Government should urgently address grievances from healthcare workers in order to stem brain drain which has been rampant lately. Zimbabwe lost 2100 healthcare workers in 2021, 1800 of which were nurses. Scotland seems to be the biggest beneficiary at the moment.
  • The appreciation that Africa is a studious and highbrow continent that can stand tall against whatever medical misadventure the world can experience. Genomic sequencing done in South Africa showed two stubborn viruses of concern, 501Y.V2 and Omicron, which were reported to World Health Organisation. Africa was on top of the situation. US lost more than one million people while Africa lost only a quarter of that, thanks to robust public health measures that were enforced.
  • The appreciation that health funding is of paramount importance. The Abuja Declaration of 2001 recommended at least a 15% allocation to the health ministries from the national budget. A lot of health infrastructure is required in Zimbabwe and that includes Oxygen processing plants, new equipment which include ventilators, admission facilities. There is need to train more staff especially those required in the critical areas of health like Intensive Care Nurses, Anaesthetists, Ambulance technicians etcetera.
  • The realisation that cross-border cooperation is important during pandemics and the subsequent sharing of information contributed to the successful anti-Covid-19 campaigns. No country could stand alone during the peak of Covid-19. Collaboration with non-governmental organisations is vital as these organisations can assist in the testing, contact-tracing, surveillance and even treatment of patients. Mutual relationship between government and NGOs should exist for the betterment of the nation.
  • The realisation that vaccination remains the most critical public health measure against outbreaks. In 1957 during the Asian flu pandemic, Maurice Hilleman, an American microbiologist, came up with a vaccine just 4 months within the pandemic. Vaccine halted the H2N2 virus and the pandemic came to an end. Covid-19 vaccines brought relief as the virulence of the virus was reduced significantly.
  • The realisation that personal hygiene is key throughout your life. One does not need to wait for an outbreak in order to do proper hand-washing or sanitisation of the hands. Other diseases can also be stopped like flu, common cold, typhoid, cholera, dysentery and monkey pox, among others.

Let all the health stakeholders learn from Covid-19 attack and rectify where possible. The world remains under threat from outbreaks especially Coronaviruses. We are proud that Africa managed Covid-19 better than what was expected. Together we will defend our countries!

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