Unpacking COVID-19 in Zim …as vaccine race hots up

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By Catherine Murombedzi

SOCIAL distancing, which is a part of everyday life in rural settings as compared to urban settings, is proving its benefits as COVID-19 is on an upward trend in urban settings in Zimbabwe, where homes are densely populated. 

Rural homesteads in Zimbabwe, by nature, are spaced, thereby maintaining physical and social distancing. A kilometre radius can be made up of five homesteads or even less. It therefore, has not been difficult, to observe the social distancing measures meant to halt the further spread of the pandemic.

Local insight

The spread of the novel coronavirus is being increasingly driven by people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Why is it like that?

This age group is highly mobile. It makes up the working class. With COVID-19, one may be infected yet showing no signs and symptoms. This is called asymptomatic.

This means they are unaware they are infected.

Asymptomatic

“They have no symptoms, or may have very mild symptoms which the immune system fights off. Thus many people from this age range are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms of COVID-19, they unknowingly pass on the virus to others…,” the World Health Organisation, (WHO) has warned.

This above trend mirrors Zimbabwe too. This is the most active age group in mobility. This is also the working class, be it formal or informal.

Age and sex

Zimbabwe infection demography has shown that more males are affected as compared to women. This bulk again is from the above listed group.

λ More males are affected as

      compared to females. 

λ Most COVID-19 cases are in the  

      20–40 years age groups

λ However, there are more females 

     affected as age rises.

Disparities

Cities in Zimbabwe report more infections as compared to rural settings. Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru have peaked in COVID-19 infections. What could be the reason? Overcrowding, lack of social distancing, low risk perception and failure to mask up when in closed and confined places could be the reason. The mobile groups in the cities have been captured pushing and shoving as they embark the public buses. Masks have been lowered the moment one takes a seat in the bus. With over 75 passengers in the buses, one possible infection can result in community infections. Each infected person takes home the silent killer to loved ones at home. The spread can soon result in cluster infections, if the low risk perception prevails with unabated caution.

Although the three cities have reported new infections, the low density suburbs seem not heavily impacted by nature of the homes not being crowded.

Drivers of COVID-19

The disproportionate infection cycle, which in April, May and June was immigrant driven with returning residents infection was on an upward trajectory. Since July, the local infections cycle has surpassed the returning residents infection rate. With the local infections up, possibility of cluster community infections is feared. Everyday the figures change.

With a recovery rate of 82 percent as of 24 August, 2020, Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 trajectory path to flatten the curve remains twisted as Harare and Bulawayo continue to peak in local transmission.

“We are not yet out of the woods as a country, we have to remain alert. We now have community infections and we cannot afford to relax,” this is the COVID-19 Chief Coordinator’s mantra, Dr Agnes Mahomva.

Transmissions

Harare now has the highest number of cases per capita followed by Bulawayo and Matabeleland South.

Harare also has the highest number of deaths per capita followed by Bulawayo with Manicaland rising.

Study

Although there has not been any study on location, earnings and standard of living taken, pointers show more infections in highly populated locations.

In Zimbabwe the rich and poor have both been impacted with both succumbing to the virus.

Medication in Zimbabwe is sold in US$, the diet to boost immunity of a COVID-19 patient is expensive, the poor hence feel the heat more.

Only 2,5 percent of those infected have died in Zimbabwe, a fact which calls for a different approach to COVID-19. The majority of infected patients have been managing at home and have recovered.

Survivors speak

Dr Ruth Labode, survived the pandemic, together with her husband.

She is the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) proportional representation legislator for Matabeleland North. She also chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Health, walked the nation on her arduous journey fighting COVID-19.

“Medication is expensive and is sold in US$. It is not easy to purchase the required medication. My husband and I visited our doctor…we were self isolating and treated from home. …the food too to boost one’s immunity is expensive..,” she was quoted as saying. 

A journalist speaking on condition of anonymity said stigma is her worst fear.

“I was so afraid when I tested positive after a trip where some Members of Parliament tested positive too. I cannot openly disclose I survived COVID-19. The moment I do as a freelancer, people will shun me, I will not be invited to diaries. My colleagues too, will avoid me, so I will not speak up, all I tell you is that it is tough, it is scaring, medication is not affordable. Right now I still have loss of appetite and cannot afford the food I feel like eating. I felt lonely, scared, no doctor to run to, I joined a virtual group of Pan African Survivors. I got massive support there,” she said on the telephone.

Nature of job

Health care workers have been infected at work with a few infected elsewhere. The chances of getting infected at work is very high.

Locally, the Harare City Council recently closed most centres after employees tested positive to COVID-19. Harare City Council last week had 15 clinics operational out of an establishment of 42.

The authority mitigated the closure by introducing mobile clinics.

WHO on July 23 warned of the threat posed by COVID-19 to health workers across Africa.

“More than 10 000 health workers in the 40 countries which have reported on such infections have been infected with COVID-19 so far, a sign of the challenges medical staff on the frontlines of the outbreak face.”

Vaccine development

With COVID-19 sending the global village in turmoil, a vaccine is long awaited. Many countries are in the race.

Russia has unveiled a vaccine.

In the US, the Moderna clinical trials are underway. In South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom, the Oxford University in conjunction with Wits University have a vaccine under clinical trials with volunteers injected, it’s been three weeks under observation.

Vaccine development has been accelerated, many nations and experts have embarked on the journey with haste. Historically, vaccines take long to develop, running into years. From animal trials, human trials on a small scale testing efficacy to reviews by peers. A vaccine fundi, Dr Fauci said life may not return to normal for some time even after we get a vaccine, depending on its effectiveness.

“We will need to follow public health measures as well to fully thwart the virus.

It will take time for the community to develop the needed ‘umbrella of protection’ to say we are safe.”

Reuters reports that Cuba is also developing a vaccine.

“Cuba will start testing its own COVID-19 vaccine candidate next week, according to the official Cuban registry of clinical trials. The vaccine, Soberana 01, was produced by the state-run Finlay Institute of Vaccines and will be tested during a phase I and II trial involving 676 adults between 19 and 80 years old. The results will not be published until February 2021.”

For now everyone must put hands on the deck. A new normal requires social distancing to flatten the curve.

Be safe, observe all measures.

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