Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
ZIMBABWEAN frontline healthcare workers will undergo Covid-19 screening starting today as part of a study to ascertain their exposure to the pandemic while in the line of duty.
Dubbed the Covid-19 Diagnosis in Frontline Health Workers and Disease Immune Dynamics, the study was launched in Bulawayo yesterday by Tiba, an African led research programme that explores lessons from the ways African health systems tackle infectious diseases.
Called Tackling Infectious Diseases for the Benefit of Africa, the acronym Tiba means to cure an infection in Swahili.
The programme dovetails with Government’s inclination to protect frontline health care workers and motivate them as they spearhead the fight against Covid-19.
Besides ensuring frontline staff have personal protective equipment (PPE) when attending to patients, Government is paying them risk allowances for the duration of the pandemic, while President Mnangagwa recently announced an income tax break for healthcare workers and health care institutions for the next six months.
Tiba Zimbabwe comprises of researchers from Iam4ByoFightingCovid-19 initiative, the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) and the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).
Frontliners who include nurses, nurse aids, general hands, security guards and doctors from Mpilo Central Hospital, council clinics, Mater Dei and United Bulawayo Hospitals will access screening from today.
The one-month long project will move to other cities and pioneers are expecting results from the beginning of July this year.
It is funded by the UK National Institute of health research through the Global health Research Funds.
Researchers who include university students drawn from the two universities will also evaluate the uptake and impact of testing on the general Zimbabwean health system.
Part of the study objectives include validating antibody and antigen tests in Zimbabwe against the PCR standard and describe if workers who contract the virus can develop immunity against it (sero-epidemiology) and determine immunity levels among frontliners.
A total of 197 health workers at Mpilo have been placed in self-isolation after four people including a nurse tested positive for Covid-19 at the hospital recently.
Speaking during the national launch of the project in Bulawayo yesterday, Minister of State for Provincial Affairs Cde Judith Ncube said she was happy as the project had blessing from the Cabinet.
“As you know this was a Cabinet decision to carry out this study and I have a duty to ensure that Government structures are adequately informed as this study progresses. I am proud that Bulawayo is taking part in the international fight against Covid-19, in the creation of knowledge that will yield significant outcomes for frontline workers,” said Minister Ncube.
She applauded the researchers for the initiative which will help avert cases where health care workers are infected while on duty, like the case at Mpilo.
“I wish to urge all our hospitals and clinics to embrace this offer and ensure health care workers are tested. I also urge chief executive officers to spread word to their frontliners as testing will be done on site effective tomorrow (June, 10),” added Minister Ncube.
Tiba Zimbabwe principal investigator Professor Simbarashe Rusakaniko said the organisation was going to offer health care workers a chance to test for Covid-19 which had been a desire for many.
“We found out that our health care workers are at a higher risk of Covid-19 because of their exposure to members of the public when they carry their day to day to day activities. Our first aim is to see whether after this exposure the health workers are willing to take a test,” said Prof Rusakaniko.
“We also want to establish how many of our frontliners actually want to go back to work after conducting the tests.”
According to Prof Rusakaniko, the antibody tests would determine if health care officials are doing the right examination and thereby reduce the false positives and the false negatives in Zimbabwe.
“We will also establish if exposed frontliners develop an immunity that can fight this Covid-19 as part of the study. If they do so, the question would be are they willing to go back to work knowing that they have developed an immunity that protects them?”
Dr Lindiwe Majele- Sibanda the deputy chairperson for Iam4ByoFightingCovid-19 said the initiative had already yielded great results in the city.
“We are a multi-stakeholder organisation working towards packaging information that will lead to appropriate behaviour change which will in turn combat Covid-19. We are just over two months old. We have been able to initiate discussions with Government and we have signed agreements with them and Bulawayo City Council amongst other stakeholders.- @thamamoe