Zimbabwe court orders government to protect health workers

The order was issued by the court in response to a petition filed by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights over the lack of proper equipment to deal with the spread of the virus

April 17, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Zimbabwe COVID PPEs
The court has ordered the Zimbabwe government to ensure PPEs for all health workers, and expand the screening and testing for COVID-19. (Photo: Columbus MavhungaVOA)

The Zimbabwe High Court has ordered the government to ensure the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to all healthcare workers serving at public health facilities as well as to those deployed on field to trace contacts made by individuals tested positive for COVID-19. 

The order was passed by the high court on April 14, Tuesday, in response to a petition filed by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on behalf of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) on April 5, after a series of lapses in the healthcare system led to the second death due to COVID-19 in the country. 

Pointing to the unpreparedness of Zimbabwe’s underfunded health system to tackle the COVID-19 emergency, the petition drew attention to the highly vulnerable state in which doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are currently operating due to a severe shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

A shortage of test kits has also caused avoidable delays in confirming infections and starting treatment, despite visible symptoms. This delay is sometimes compounded by the lack of awareness regarding COVID-19 symptoms that warrant quarantine and isolation, further exposing communities, particularly healthcare workers, to the virus. The court has asked the government to address this issue by deploying sufficient test kits at all public hospitals, airports and ports of entry. It has also directed the government to expand testing coverage by “including mobile or door to door testing in order to account for asymptomatic carriers,” ZLHR said in its statement.

The court further ordered all healthcare workers and essential services providers exempt from the lockdown, along with their assistant staff, drivers and security personnel, to be regularly screened and tested. Public transport vehicles of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company and of other passenger service providers are also to be disinfected at arrival and departure from each destination.

Experts note that the government will have to break with its austerity policy to implement the measures as directed by the court. Doctors, nurses and other public servants have borne the brunt of the austerity policy imposed over the last year, when the government resorted to a type of currency manipulation to shift the burden of the deteriorating economy onto public servants. This was done chiefly to safeguard the interests of finance capital in the vain hopes of resuscitating a crashing economy. 

In many cases, real income has been reduced to 10% of what people earned until the end of 2018. This had led to incapacitation of medical personnel, who were forced to down tools and resort to repeated strike actions. These have been met with state repression, including the alleged abduction and torture of union leaders by security agents.