Locadia Mavhudzi Features Correspondent
Traditional leaders in the Midlands Province have appealed to government to pay more attention to rural health facilities as many families have returned to their rural homes due to Covid-19 induced challenges.

Chiefs who spoke to The Herald said over the past two months, they have received more families who have migrated from urban areas.

This, they said, may put more pressure on under resourced rural health centers.

Chief Sogwala of Silobela said he has received around 20 families over the past two months with most coming from Gweru and Kwekwe.

“We have received about 20 families who have returned to stay in the rural areas. These are people with homesteads here, but were residing in town where they were informally employed. These people carry their belongings overnight and we just wake up to see that they are back home to stay. Our biggest nightmare is whether these may be local transmitters of Covid- 19. However, we are reporting their presence to the local health officials,” he said.

Chief Sogwala said many of the returnees were vendors and cross border traders.

“I have figured out their return is influenced by lack of jobs and failure to pay rentals in town. Covid-19 has crippled their work and they can no longer sustain urban livelihoods. We are calling on government to consider equipping rural health facilities so that they can provide sufficient healthcare to the increasing rural population.”

Chief Mapanzure of Zvishavane echoed the same sentiments saying his area has also received returnees from neighboring countries who may not have come through the normal channels.

“We are living in fear of the pandemic. Most people who had gone to work in town are now back in the rural areas. I have received reports of some returnees in my constituency who are believed to be coming from South Africa in unscrupulous manners. We have since made a report so that the suspects can be tested and quarantined.”

He said most people had left Zvishavane and Mberengwa areas to seek better opportunities in South Africa.

Chief Mapanzure said the returnees are also putting pressure on food aid beneficiaries.

“All those returning people are in dire need of food aid hence I am working with village heads to incorporate all the returnees on the list of beneficiaries for food aid. They are subject to receive 50kg maize bag on monthly basis through the government initiative to avert hunger in dry regions. We are also working on modalities to incorporate them as beneficiaries on donor support schemes.”

Midlands Acting Provincial Medical Director Dr Reginald Mhene told a recent provincial Covid- 19 taskforce meeting in Gweru that both rural and urban clinics are in urgent need of personal protective equipment and medical equipping of health facilities.

“With the growing number of Covid-19 cases local transmissions, we are looking at establishing more isolation facilities. These will obviously be in both rural and urban areas. Such facilities should be well resourced and equipped with necessities such as electricity, running water and other equipment.

In developing countries like Zimbabwe, access to healthcare services is often influenced by long distances and travel times to health facilities, the availability of financial resources to travel or pay for care and the availability of medical drugs as well as competent healthcare workers.

The Ministry of Health and Childcare has roped in community healthcare workers in the national Covid -19 response as local transmission escalate.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has unveiled support for health ministries in Africa to extend surveillance hence community leaders and village healthcare workers in Zimbabwe will now play a crucial role in the Covid-19 response.

Village healthcare workers are essential in primary healthcare as they deliver health services to the communities by conducting health promotion services ranging from maternal, neonatal and child health and nutrition.

Meanwhile, Director of Epidemiology in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Portia Manangazira said they are equipping community healthcare workers on community health surveillance in light of the growing numbers on Covid-19 infection.

“We have identified key community health workers and community leaders including chiefs, youth and church leaders to train them on community surveillance with a uniform reporting mechanism over the next three months. For border communities, the village health care workers will work with traditional leaders to identify any returnees and arrivals and follow them up even after discharge from quarantine centers and assist them on any challenges they may face.”

Dr Manangazira said the work of community health workers has been extended in line with the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“In the current Covid-19 context, their role will expand beyond engaging communities in prevention of Covid-19 to include detection and responses and contributing to containing the pandemic. The training has looked at preventative measures, symptoms, defining coronavirus and demystifying it as well as information packaging that helps to impact on behavioral change in addition to the standard scope of their work.

Dr Manangazira said Covid-19 surveillance requires an all stakeholder approach as new local infections are on the rise.

“We have come up with a systematic reporting mechanism for all key leaders and village healthcare workers in communities. We have also identified people living with HIV as a vulnerable group hence they were part of the training so that they will monitor and report on Covid-19 infections amongst people living with HIV.”

Founder president and former board chairperson of the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council, Friday Chisanyu, who was part of the trainees hailed the training as a step in the right direction in the national response to Covid-19.

“The role of traditional medicines can never be underestimated. The uptake of lemon and honey concoction is largely known as a treatment to common colds and flu, but now that we have Covid-19 we need to continue enforcing preventive and control measures against the pandemic. In the absence of a vaccine or cure for Covid-19, self-isolation remains key in curbing the spread of the deadly virus. The country should also increase community awareness, screening, monitoring and testing for Covid-19,” he said.

Over 3 000 Covid19 cases have so far been recorded in Zimbabwe.