Essential health services should not be suspended while the country fights the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic which has claimed many lives across the globe, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH), a local civic society organisation, has said.
Zimbabwe, currently under five-week lockdown to contain the spread of the pandemic has so far recorded 40 confirmed cases including four deaths and five recoveries.
Since the country entered into a lockdown major hospitals have only been attending to emergencies while focusing on dealing with a possible outbreak of COVID-19.
Patients visiting public hospitals with conditions deemed not critical are turned away.
However, CWHG executive director Itai Rusike this week said essential health services should not be neglected.
“We must work to balance fighting this pandemic while maintaining essential health services,” he said.
“COVID-19 is a national crisis of health, economic, social and political dimensions that requires a collective national response where we prioritise leaving no one behind.”
He said the government should consider channelling a portion of COVID-19 response funds to protect and bolster HIV, TB and malaria programme infrastructure, by strengthening health systems, supporting resilient supply and procurement systems among others.
“The response must apply the principles of universal health coverage (UHC) and multi-sectorial collaboration,” he explained.
“This includes empowering and capacitating community and civil society partners to help deliver the response. The COVID-19 funding should be used to surge and strengthen the public health delivery system including the training and recruitment of well-paid and well protected health workers as well as the suspension of user fees at least for the period of the pandemic to ensure unconditional access to all health services for all free at the point of use.”
Rusike called for transparency in all COVID-19 related funding and donations including expenditure and all procurements, adding they should be subjected to public scrutiny, with mechanisms to prevent corruption and must be accountable to the citizens in order maintain public trust.
“A national coordinated, gender and rights-based response is needed,” he said.
“COVID-19 will disproportionately affect women and girls, vulnerable and marginalized people, such as people living in poverty, people who are malnourished, elderly people, homeless people, people with disabilities, prisoners and people with existing health conditions.”
The health response to COVID-19, Rusike said, must prevent stigma and discrimination, include psychological care, and ensure safe and quality health care including sexual and reproductive health care.
“The response to COVID-19 will have knock-on impacts on access to routine health services, including sexual and reproductive services,” he emphasised.