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Limited Care Options for the Elderly Amidst COVID-19 and a Crippled Health System

by Lizwe Sebatha

In a country where the majority struggle to access quality health care, COVID-19 has brought with it more challenges for the elderly needing additional care.

BULAWAYO, August 14, 2020. (The Citizen Bulletin “When you get home, all you do is to go in a corner and cry,” medical doctor Takudzwa Mudzingwa says as he narrates the ordeal that patients go through after failing to receive medical attention at public health institutions.

Nurses have been on strike for nearly two months, with senior doctors joining them a fortnight ago protesting poor pay and lack of COVID-19 protective gear.

Amidst this, patients have been left to endure the pain away, self-administering medical care while others have turned to traditional healers to save a life, hopefully.

Born on August 8, 1916, in Ndolwane, Plumtree Matabeleland South, centenarian Kabako Mpofu battles elderly bedsores resulting from mobility challenges and is always bedridden.

Her daughter Violet Ndlovu, from Pumula North, Bulawayo, cleans her and dresses her bedsores with Betadine and other medications for treating open wounds. With most of  Ndlovu’s siblings in neighbouring South Africa, she has little support in terms of care work.  

“I don’t sleep as she cannot do anything on her own,” Ndlovu says.

The reporter observed Ndlovu pulling her mother in a home-made blanket pulley as there is no wheelchair.

“She is always crying out in pain from the bedsores, and I have to be changing her sleeping positions, taking her to the convenience rooms, washing her linen, and feeding her among other needs.”

“We relocated her to Bulawayo, but this hasn’t helped since we are told they [health practitioners] are on strike and that those reporting for duty are attending to COVID-19 patients and emergencies,” Ndlovu says.

“Issues of risk of exposure to COVID-19 using public transport travelling from Bulawayo to Plumtree had she been admitted at a hospital is another reason why we decided to bring her home.”

Her close circle Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) friends visit now and then to offer messages of support and help with household chores.

Not only is Ndlovu taking care of her 104 aged mother, but her epileptic husband Hezekiah also battles hypertension and requires attention.

“COVID-19 has made it a lot worse as my siblings cannot visit from where they are based in South Africa or from Ndolwane to assist me in attending to her and my husband.”

Violet Ndlovu, a daughter and wife to the patients

Borders remain closed while inter-city travel remains banned under measures announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa aimed at combating COVID-19 spread.

“It boggles my mind why this situation where there are no nurses, doctors and medicines are not being addressed. I fail to understand this as we are suffering in silence with no one to turn to,” she says.

According to Section 29 of the constitution, the state must take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic, affordable and adequate health services throughout the county.

The section adds that the state must also take appropriate fair and reasonable measures to ensure that no person is denied emergency medical treatment at any health institution.

Ironically, Zimbabwe had no Health and Childcare minister for nearly a month after the sacking and subsequent arrest of Obadiah Moyo over corrupt tender procedures for COVID-19 supplies.

Mnangagwa appointed his deputy Constantino Chiwenga as new Health and Child Care minister on August 4.

There are no statistics of the numbers that have succumbed to preventable diseases owing to the strike action by nurses and doctors.

According to Ndlovu, patients battling other diseases are suffering as nurses are also scared of COVID-19 infection owing to lack of PPEs.

“Who would have attended to her needs had she been admitted at Plumtree hospitals when nurses are on strike, lack PPEs and have been exposed to COVID-19?” Ndlovu asks.

Area ward 17 councillor Sikhululekile Moyo recently visited Mpofu in the company of  Pumula legislator Sichelesile Mahlangu.

Moyo says it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the well being of its citizens.

The country’s care centres for the old survive on handouts and do not get any budgetary allocations from the council or the government.

“I am sure you have seen on several occasions Entembeni, a home for the aged, seeking handouts for food, material things or otherwise.
“We have promised to link the family with some welfare civic groups or organisations that deal with the aged to assist wherever they can in their time of need,” Moyo says.

“Our wish is to find a health care NGO that can assist with medication, and other kinds of support and not only with food parcels.”

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