By Community Working Group on Health
This year’s national Worker’s Day theme; “Stop Covid-19 Pandemic: Scale-up social protection and dialogue, save jobs and pay a living wage”, befits the current environment which emphasizes stopping the spread of the virus and urging employers to pay wages that sustain families, especially during this lockdown period.
It is under this difficult operating environment that the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to the critical role being played by frontline health workers who are risking their lives to save their nation from this contagious monster disease. Their commitment to national duty is unparalleled and should be accorded the heroism that it deserves. The same accolade goes to all other supporting staff who are fighting from the background through all other means to ensure the end of this pandemic.
The current economic downturn characterized by the high cost of food prices as well as spiraling inflation has unfortunately worsened the situation especially for the vulnerable people in the country. Badly affected is the informal sector, which currently supports over 90 percent of the country’s 14 million people. In the absence of functioning national safety net, many poor families, the disabled, and the majority of the informal sector workers have already run out of food and other basic household needs during this 5-week long lockdown. They had little or no savings of their own.
The health delivery system in Zimbabwe is being overwhelmed, with a lack of health care capacity for patients and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers. With 40 confirmed cases across the country, we are concerned about the capacity of the health system to respond as case numbers grow, for example, there are only a few intensive care beds at Wilkins Infectious Disease Hospital and many districts still do not have ventilators or extensive testing.
We ask for all the COVID-19 related funding and donations including expenditure and all procurements to be transparent, they should be subjected to public scrutiny, with mechanisms to prevent corruption and must be accountable to the citizens in order to maintain public trust.
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.
The government should consider channeling a portion of COVID-19 response funds to protect and bolster HIV, TB, and malaria programme infrastructures, by strengthening health systems, supporting resilient supply and procurement systems, and facilitating a quick, and flexible response to stock-outs of key commodities nationally. The response must apply the principles of universal health coverage (UHC) and multi-sectoral collaboration. This includes empowering and capacitating community and civil society partners to help deliver the response.
A national coordinated, gender, and rights-based response is needed. 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 must prevent stigma and discrimination, including psychological care, and ensure safe and quality health care including sexual and reproductive healthcare.
The response to COVID-19 will have knock-on impacts on access to routine health services, including sexual and reproductive services. We must work to balance fighting this pandemic while maintaining essential health services.
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.