The Sunday Mail
THE country’s 10 provinces will soon have Covid-19 testing, referral and isolation centres, as members of the Cabinet taskforce were yesterday deployed to various stations countrywide to assess progress on readiness to combat the novel coronavirus.
This comes as the Global Fund last week released US$5 million to Zimbabwe out of the US$25 million that it has pledged to the country for the anti-Covid-19 fight.
To ease pressure on the country’s sole testing unit, the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory in Harare, 167 testing machines are expected to be installed countrywide from rural clinics to provincial hospitals, in a development that will increase the number of people tested for the virus.
Starting this week, Mpilo Provincial Hospital is set to become the second Covid-19 testing centre after a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) unit was set up at the institution.
A detailed report on Covid-19 readiness is expected tomorrow after Cabinet ministers were tasked to work with provincial health officials to identify and refurbish the centres.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said under Government’s grand plan, all the country’s provinces would become autonomous in attending to Covid-19 cases.
“The vast majority of the testing will be conducted through the use of GeneXpert PCR machines. Countrywide, we have 167 GeneXpert PCR machines but at the moment they cannot be used because they do not have the required Covid-19 cartridges.
“These cartridges are on order and are expected to arrive in the country within a week, or at the most two weeks.
“So if we can get all these 167 machines up and running we will be able to carry out testing in all the provinces down to the rural clinic level,” he said.
He said the ministry was also seized with the registration of rapid test kits from various suppliers which will be used for screening purposes only and not for diagnostic purposes.
“We also have rapid test kits that we are distributing to all the country’s provinces. Rapid test kits take at least 15 minutes for the results to come out compared to PCR testing which takes five to six hours before the results are ready. If someone tests positive with a rapid test, a swab specimen will be collected and submitted to the reference laboratory for PCR testing as the PCR method remains the definitive method or gold standard for Covid-19 testing.
“PCR is the definitive method for testing Covid-19. Those who are found negative for Covid-19 under rapid testing will be invited for repeat rapid testing in the hope that if they are a carrier of Covid-19 they would have built antibodies that can be picked up by the rapid test.”
Dr Moyo said private players including Lancet Laboratories, Cimas and Premier Medical Services had been given the go-ahead to also conduct the PCR testing, but they were also awaiting the reagents for running their machines .
“We are going to have coronavirus centres at all our provincial hospitals. We also want our district hospitals to have a service for coronavirus as well as isolation units.
“Asked about the timelines for setting up the Covid-19 treatment centres countrywide, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said: “There are provincial committees that are already at work, so it is work in progress. These committees have already made some progress, including identifying the hospitals that they will be converting for different purposes like testing and isolation centres,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
“It is now just a matter of sprucing up these centres to meet the expected standards. By Monday (tomorrow), we will have a detailed progress report to say which hospitals are ready or when they will be ready.
“We will have a full catalogue and this will be released most probably by Monday after our tour of the provinces this weekend. There will, therefore, be a detailed update on each province.”
Health and Child Care secretary Dr Agnes Mahomva said the PCR machines were available countrywide as they were being used for testing tuberculosis.
“We have the GeneXpert machines in about 13 centres around the country. They are being used for testing tuberculosis but can also test Covid-19. It is just a matter of installing the cartridges. We are in the process of procuring these cartridges and we have already placed the orders.
“We are also pleased to announce that Bulawayo Province will soon become the second testing centre after we moved one PCR machine from National University of Science and Technology (NUST) to Mpilo Hospital.
Asked about the projected capacity for testing centres, Dr Mahomva said: “One PCR machine can do up to 200 tests at a time.”
On the US$5 million from the Global Fund, Dr Moyo said the money was now available and would be directed towards refurbishing medical centres in the provinces.
“The disbursement of the US$25 million from the Global Fund has started. To date we have received US$5 million. The United Nations Resident Coordinator brought this news a few days ago.
“So this is a given and that money is now available for us to be able to utilise. We will be able to use the money to upgrade our institutions in the provinces,” said Dr Moyo.
Dr Moyo reiterated that prevention against the disease remains important.
“It is essential that each and every Zimbabwean looks at themselves and realise that Covid-19 can attack. In order not to be attacked, you should participate in and follow the lockdown process, look at yourself as an individual and say that I want to save my life. Let’s follow social distancing at home or at the time when you go out if you have to go out.”
He said the risk allowance for medical workers has been finalised, although he would not reveal the amounts that doctors and nurses would be paid.
“There has been a bargaining agreement that has been signed. Everyone has agreed and is back to work. This was agreed to in the presence of the President and representatives of the medical workers.”
Dr Moyo said frontline health workers will also be adequately equipped with personal protective equipment.