By Patience Rusere, Sandra Nyaira & Slyvia Manika
Zimbabwean Health Minister Henry Madzorera confirmed Thursday that the H1N1 influenza virus responsible for the so-called swine flu pandemic has reached the country, telling a news conference in Harare that five cases have been confirmed at a private primary school in Mutare, capital of eastern Manicaland Province.
Dr. Madzorera said five pupils between the ages of five and 10 were diagnosed with the flu out of 27 suspected cases. The cases occurred early this month but it took weeks to confirm the presence of the H1N1 virus as tests had to be performed in South Africa, he said.
Dr. Madzorera said the five children taken ill remained under treatment.
Despite an expanding strike by junior hospital doctors and some nurses, Dr. Madzorera said the country is “well prepared” to cope with the pandemic first detected in Mexico.
But health experts question this preparedness given the crisis in the hospitals. The doctors are demanding a pay increase which the government says it cannot afford.
From Geneva, World Health Organization H1N1 Spokesman Gregory Hartl told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that it is expected every country will have cases but the WHO will be working closely with African countries to detect them early.
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans are reliving the health care crisis of late 2008 though thankfully this time around there is no surging cholera epidemic claiming lives as hospital wards close.
Yet there is no end in sight to the latest strike by resident doctors in the main state hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo, who were joined this week by some nurses while other nurses are in go-slow mode. Many sick people are being turned away without medical assistance.
Health Minister Madzorera and some of his predecessors met behind closed doors today with senior doctors, consultants and other health experts seeking a solution.
For perspective on this latest hospital crisis, reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to Harare-based senior Dr. Elopy Sibanda, who trains junior physicians, and Senior Programs Officer Elias Mapendere of the Center for Community Development.
Dr. Sibanda said that while he sympathizes with the striking doctors, medical professionals should never go on strike.
On another Zimbabwean health front, the Netherlands branch of Medicins San Frontières on Wednesday premiered “The Positive Ladies Soccer Club,” a docu-drama about HIV-positive women in the populous Harare suburb of Epworth who fight stigma by taking up soccer.
Correspondent Sylvia Manika of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare.