“There is no Ebola in Zimbabwe. What we have are several scares.” These were the words of Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa commenting on the latest suspected case of Ebola involving a Congolese national who is studying at Harare Polytechnic.
The student is said to have presented signs and symptoms synonymous to Ebola virus thus vomiting, body weakness and a high temperature. The female student is also said to have arrived in the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo three weeks ago.
This combination of facts frightened health workers who were attending to the student at Parirenyatwa Hospital resulting in them refusing to attend to her and subsequently referring her to Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital.
Wilkins Hospital is the identified treatment and management centre for Ebola patients. However, preliminary investigations show that the student is suffering from malaria and is already responding well to quinine for malaria treatment.
Blood samples have however been sent to South Africa for further Ebola investigations. This is the third official Ebola scare in the country within the past two months. Last month another case involving a foreign national was reported at the same hospital. The foreign national was bleeding and had a high fever among other symptoms.
Again health workers frightened, refused to continue caring for the patient fearing to contract Ebola.
It later turned out that the patient had typhoid. In August another long distance truck driver of Zambian origin was isolated at United Bulawayo Hospitals in Bulawayo after he presented with symptoms resembling Ebola.
The driver is said to have been bleeding, shivering and vomiting. His blood samples however turned negative for Ebola virus. There have been several other unconfirmed suspected cases spread via social media. The latest one involved the death of a truck driver in Murehwa.
No one has confirmed such cases but they are topping discussions on social media.
Health workers causing panic
While the media is usually blamed for publishing stories that cause panic among the generality of the population, in this case it is our very own health workers to blame for all these scares.
This is so because the disease at the centre of discussion is highly infectious and has a history of affecting health workers mostly since they are the ones who come into contact with sick persons.
Health workers in Zimbabwe are particularly scared because there seems to be no protection for them from getting the disease from suspected cases.
Across all health institutions in the country, health workers are attending to all patients just as they would do in a normal environment, which has no Ebola.
“It is us who have the first contact with a patient and our fear is that by the time we realise that we are dealing with an Ebola case it would be too late for protection,” were the words of one health worker from Parirenyatwa Hospital.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) urged Government to come up with a comprehensive plan for the protection of all health workers and their families.