By Robin Muchetu
Some private and public hospitals in the country have been accused of not providing the Government with Covid-19 statistics, a move that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on health described as scandalous and unacceptable.
The development has irked stakeholders who felt that the country has been missing important information on Covid-19 trends, resulting in failure to adequately plan in terms of resource mobilisation.
Giving oral evidence on Covid-19 last week before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on health, head of Monitoring and Evaluation in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Robert Mudyiradima and the Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control Dr Portia Manangazira, said private hospitals such as Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo and some in Harare have not been providing data in relation to Covid-19 statistics.
Chairperson of the committee Dr Ruth Labode said it was unacceptable for private hospitals to “play such games and try to be a law unto themselves”. She said the stance by some hospitals and clinics has led to possible under-reporting of the Covid-19 situation in Zimbabwe and called on the Government to whip them into line.
“We contacted Mater Dei Hospital after the meeting and they actually had 17 Covid-19 cases and we wondered where they had come from as we were told they had said they have zero cases. That hospital has never had zero cases, where do you think the who is who of Bulawayo go and seek treatment from?
“This also means two things, it’s either Dr Manangazira did not phone the hospital or Mater Dei does not respect the Government. As a private institution, they should not question who is Government to ask them (about statistics).
This is an infectious disease that they must report. The Government has the right to ask how many patients are at the hospital,” she said.
She added that she was worried because Mater Dei was a Covid-19 testing centre.
“I was tested there myself but I don’t know if that information was then taken to the Government. It is possible that information is under-reported on Covid-19 because if you see an institution saying they have zero cases when asked for statistics it means they do not want to report, there cannot be zero cases at an institution,” she said.
Dr Labode also took a swipe at the Bulawayo City Council for the manner they handled their Covid-19 statistics.
“We were also told that Thorngrove Infectious Disease Hospital had no Covid-19 patients and later on the Bulawayo City Council Director of Health Services Dr Edwin Sibanda said there were three cases. For me it was shocking, it’s just that we cannot come out and verify physically in the communities, but how can they report such few cases when we are saying Covid-19 is at its peak in the country?
Many patients are in their homes, the ministry told us that they have 105 cases (25 January) that are in hospital beds and yet people who are active with the virus are 7000 plus. So where are these 7000 people? This means that these people are either being sent away from hospitals or they do not have money to pay for services for admissions,” she lamented.
Dr Labode also said her committee was told that people were failing to get help from local clinics and testing centres.
“I am also informed that there are centres like Pumula, Magwegwe and Emakhandeni that are supposed to be testing people for Covid-19 but when people go and seek services, they are told there are no test kits. This is a challenge,” she said.
Efforts to get a comment form Mater Dei Hospital administrator Sister Maureen Jamieson were fruitless as she was said to be off duty and the mobile number availed to this reporter was unreachable. Messages sent to the number were not responded to by the time of going to print.
In an interview yesterday, Dr Manangazira said private and public institutions were both found wanting.
“There is underreporting in general across board even in our own institutions and yet we would want our reporting to reflect the national picture of Covid-19. At times there are delays, maybe the five cases that will have been taken today are reported late. Sometimes it’s a question of the arrangement around compilation of statistics at the institution,” she said.
Dr Manangazira said private institutions under the Public Health Act (PHA) do not manage infectious and formidable diseases but in urban areas they delegate that role to local authorities through infectious disease hospitals.
“We then expect that when a public health crisis is an emergency of international and national concern it is managed in those institutions plus the public health sector. What happened with Covid-19 is that it really became an enormous crisis and the private sector came forward to say we want to assist, so for the first time they started managing a public health emergency. It would naturally take them time to develop up-to-date reporting into the national reporting system. This might account for the challenges that we have been facing in terms of getting reports from the private institutions.
“Traditionally the private sector does not report to the government and it is something that we are looking at now that there are Information Communication Technologies to have reporting that is easy rather than having to fill in a form. This is what I was bringing across to Parliamentarians that the private sector is reluctant to bring in reports,” she said.
However, she said ethics compel practitioners to report infectious diseases.
“We also complain that under the PHA even if one runs a private surgery, if they see a cholera or tuberculosis case, because they were trained as a health worker, they are mandated to report that to the secretary for health using the fastest means possible. That is laxity that was happening even before the Covid-19 crisis,” she said.
She said the government was grateful that the private sector has been forthcoming leading to some laboratories having partnered with them in testing, together with isolation facilities such as Mater Dei Hospital and Health Point and St Annes in Harare.
She said there was need to improve on reporting of any Covid-19 case in Zimbabwe regardless of where it is detected.
“This helps so that even our neighbours and World Health Organisation know the accurate numbers in the country as part of the Global Health Agenda and also for the statistics to be useful. Now we are looking at a vaccination, we need to know what is the burden of the disease or if we need to even consider vaccination at all, if so, then to which areas, so that information needs to be accurate to assist us in our interventions. We also would want to allocate human resources to private isolation centres but that can only be possible based on accurate patient and workload statistics. We want to know the pressure of Covid-19 on the public and private institutions,” she stressed. The Sunday News