By Zimbabwe Peace Project
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals is the largest medical institution in Zimbabwe and its main hospital – a complex maze of charcoal grey buildings built before Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 – is located a few kilometres shy of Harare’s city centre, a distance that is walkable for many.
Upon entering the foyer in the casualty department, the first noticeable thing is the large numbers of people.
Dozens sit on the rows of the benches to the left while many others are either milling around or sitting all over the place, while others stand on the reception area, sorting out administrative issues with the medical personnel.
A nurse checks blood pressure and temperature of the incoming patients on one part of the foyer.
There is a strong sense of hopelessness, despair and the fatigue on the many faces is too much to be ignored.
Today, I am here to join family members who have come to process the paperwork for the burial of my auntie who died a day after being admitted to the COVID-19 section of the hospital.
We are headed towards the police post within the hospital complex and on the way is the entrance to the mortuary.
The strong, traumatising stench in that area suggests poor ventilation and improper handling of the morgue.
As we reach the police post, I notice hordes of people waiting on the outside, waiting to collect burial orders for their dead relatives.
In Zimbabwe, a burial order is a document approving the burial of a deceased person, and it often has the authorization of a doctor, pathologist, the police and next of kin. Inside the police post, are two officers and a pathologist, all sitting on chairs, processing papers.
There is no doubt the three are going beyond their limits to deal with the dozens of people eagerly waiting outside.
We submit my aunt’s papers and the police officer politely tells us that since she was in the COVID-19 ward, she will not get a post mortem.
“But when she was admitted, she had negative results from the two tests she undertook at a private hospital and when we came here, she never got tested for COVID-19, so what leads to that conclusion?” we enquire.
The pathologist weighs in “All bodies that come from the COVID-19 ward do not get post mortems,” he says.
Later on, we discover that anyone who is admitted to the hospital exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19, be it a fever or breathing complications, they are bundled to the COVID-19 ward even before they are tested, and there, they are condemned with no access to any life-saving medication.
As we waited for about an hour for our papers to be processed, over five people came in to submit papers of their relatives who had died of COVID19- related complications.
When all was done, we collected our papers and all we know, without any conclusive evidence, is that our aunt died of ‘COVID-19- related complications’, and that is because she was never tested positive, neither was she tested posthumously.
In the end, my aunt becomes one of the statistics of COVID-19, and still we are never sure of the cause of her death, and she joins the many Zimbabweans whose deaths are not being fully accounted for as government continues to keep a tight lid on how it is dealing with contact tracing, testing of the deceased and their relatives, among other procedures necessary to deal with COVID-19.
The story of the death of my auntie speaks a great deal to how a lot of corners are being cut to cover up for government’s failure to deal with COVID-19.
In addition, it exposes government’s disjointed approach to the pandemic, and whereas other countries such as South Africa have already secured vaccines, the Zimbabwean government is still appealing for funding and donations.
It goes beyond COVID-19.
It must be noted that while COVID-19 is the major focus right now, other healthcare needs, such as medication for chronic diseases, sexual and reproductive health services, among others, remain inaccessible to the ordinary people.
Local clinics are charging a prohibitive US$5 consultation fee in some cases.
By Zimbabwe Peace Project
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