ABOUT 200 health workers have tested positive to COVID-19, forcing some hospitals to shut down as government continues to dither on its promise to avail adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to the health frontline workers, NewsDay has learnt.

The majority hit by the virus are student nurses who have been thrown to the deep end to run public hospitals in the absence of qualified nurses who have been on strike for the past 34 days demanding US$ salaries, better working conditions and adequate protective clothing.

Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enoch Dongo yesterday told NewsDay that lack of PPE had immensely caused a spike in the number of health workers contracting the virus.

“About 200 nurses have tested positive to COVID-19,” Dongo said.

“It is saddening that there is an increase in the number of nurses who are testing positive for COVID-19. This goes to what we have been saying all along that the inadequate PPE is exposing frontline health workers to this deadly virus.”

This comes as the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) yesterday wrote.

to Health acting permanent secretary Gibson Mhlanga expressing concern over the growing number of healthcare workers contracting the virulent disease at their workplaces.

“We have also noted that there is no priority in providing information in the ministry’s daily updatdes on the number of health professionals, the bedrock of the response, who have tested positive, recovering or deceased,” ZADHR secretary Norman Matara said.

“As ZADHR, we believe it is in the interest of health professionals and the public in general to be informed on the status of their colleagues and frontline staffers. We also urge the ministry to provide a brief on the numbers, region/province and status of all health professionals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to date.”

Zimbabwe’s confirmed COVID-19 cases yesterday shot to 1 820, with 26 deaths.

Nurses have been on strike for the 34 days with only student nurses and those on probation reporting for work at hospitals. Other health workers, fearing to contract the deadly virus, are reportedly taking leave days, forcing some hospitals to shut down even casualty departments that had remained operational.

Midlands provincial medical director Reginald Mhene confirmed that 25 nurses at Zvishavane Provincial Hospital over the weekend tested positive for COVID- 19. Three nurses at Claybank Private Hospital in Gweru also tested positive for COVID-19 after getting into contact with an infected patient last week.

Dongo added: “We are worried that without adequate and immediate intervention, the few nurses who continuously decide to subsidise the government by going to work are going to be ravished by the COVID-19 virus.”

“To this end, all nurses including those on probation are advised not to continue to go to work and to withdraw their labour. This is no longer an issue about remuneration only but it is also about their health.”

He added: “While COVID-19 is spreading all over, the government is not doing anything to capacitate our hospitals.

We are surely bound to lose the fight against COVID-19 with this sort of approach.”

Dongo said the situation had worsened as the most vulnerable patients seeking medical assistance were being turned away from hospitals because of the absence of services.

“People are dying at home,” Dongo said.

Bulawayo City Council director of health services Edwin Sibanda yesterday raised concern over exposure of frontline health workers to COVID-19, disclosing that 70 out of the 525 cases recorded in the city were health workers, 51 of them student nurses.

Speaking at the handover of donations from Ezra Sibanda and Friends Initiative and the Rise and Shine Women’s Group to the local authority, Sibanda said the increasing cases among health workers and the spike in local transmissions was worrying.

“What is more worrying actually is the number of close to 70 being health care workers, 51 of them student nurses,” he said.

“But we have had nurses, student nurses, environment health technicians as well as doctors, student doctors or medical students, even clerical staff in hospitals being infected by this COVID-19.”

Edwin said the spike in local transmissions points to residents flouting lockdown regulations and other mitigation measures.

“As we speak, some of the health workers in institutions are on industrial strike for various reasons and we all know what happens when you are referred to a hospital and you don’t find health care workers there,” he said.

Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Larry Mavima yesterday confirmed the Claybank positive cases.

“Out of the 29 nurses and staff members who were isolated at Claybank Hospital last week, three have tested positive for COVID-19,” Mavima said.

Douglas Chikobvu, the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union secretary-general yesterday said: “What it means is that there is need for our employer to improve safety conditions of nurses at hospitals.

“Right now, we are also saying such risks of working in the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 must be compensated by meaningful allowances, but nothing much is being done on that.” -Newsday