Zambia, has in recent months experienced unprecedented levels of COVID 19 infection rates and deaths.
In the past, the country used to record single digits to no deaths a day, but the months of May, June and early July, this year, saw the numbers spiking to between 50 and over 60 deaths a day.
Current records indicate that there have been 190,615 infections and 3,221 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.
While the Zambian government attributes this rise to laxity among citizens, prevention-wise, some residents cite negligence in Zambian Health centres, as a contributing factor.
A number of COVID-19 survivors and relatives of COVID patients claim that some medical workers are reluctant to help patients in isolation wards, saying they turn a deaf ear to cries for food, pain killers, water, and other help.
There are also reports of oxygen canisters not being properly connected, while some health centres allegedly experience power cuts, which consequently disrupt the oxygen supply.
Firsthand experience of negligence
Civil Society Activist, Laura Miti shares her frustrations about losing a friend at a COVID-19 centre, due to being neglected.
Miti, who is also Executive Director for the Alliance for Community Action, talks, in a social media post she shared after the passing of the very friend, about how desperation pushed her to have him moved from a health centre she thought did not provide enough care, to a high-cost ward at another hospital, only to experience similar poor standards.
“I will speak of the Bauleni COVID centre and Levi Mwanawasa High Cost, because those are the two that I experienced. The two centres are critically understaffed. There are times when there is one exhausted nurse for 20 to 30 critical patients.
They can’t cope. So, other than Oxygen, the patient can get next to zero attention. It can take you an hour to get food to your patient. Then they are not fed immediately or at all, ” Miti complains.
She adds “Having spent 10 days running around to save a friend, I discovered a situation that I’ am convinced administrators [in charge of the COVID response] have no idea of.
It is that we are losing people in two ways: “The illness itself – medical staff try their best to save a patient but fail.
A total breakdown of care when patients are hospitalised. Patients die from neglect, not COVID. It is the latter that I want to bring to light.”
In Bauleni, Miti observes, power goes because they get loadshedded and relatives are not told that a simple extension cable that connects Oxygen to the genset, can save their patient’s life.
“By the time we discovered the vitality of the extension cables and delivered them, our patient’s Oxygen saturation had plummeted multiple times, ” Miti, recounts.
The patient had been calling for pain killers, food and water to no avail and continuously texted her to ask someone to help with that.
“I’ am thirsty, please get someone to give me water. This message comes as you are stuck at home or outside. You can’t go in. You shout at the door for a nurse to come. No one does. You call the number of a nurse you managed to get; they don’t pick up. They are overwhelmed,” Miti narrates.
The realisation that the help was never going to come, ultimately caused her to rush into the ward her patient was in, so she could provide some care, but, alas, she could not save him.
“Panicked out of my mind, I got myself a PPE and went in. But I was too late. He was thirsty, hungry, weak, in pain. He needed to be at least on a drip. But nothing. I gave him water, fed him. At some point I noticed his Oxygen bag was not inflating.
I searched for the nurse on duty. A nurse with about 30 maybe 40 odd other critically ill patients, on the night. The nurse finally came, but it took a while to discover that whoever had put more water in the Oxygen gadget, had left it loose. By the time the Oxygen was reconnected, it was just a matter of time. We lost him. Not to COVID perse, ” Miti laments.
Relatives fear health personnel lack capacity to adequately care for patients
A lot of other citizens have shared similar stories, as patients or relatives of some and like Miti, there are a number of patients’ loved ones, who say they have had to force their way into the isolation wards to takeover care, upon noticing the lack of it, thereby putting their health at risk.
A named resident who lost her mother in similar circumstances, equally relives her experience, as follows:
“My mom was a BP/stroke patient as well as COVID 19 patient. I was heart broken when I was allowed to enter the isolation, to feed her. Her Oxygen tube was out, she was screaming for help in vain, her BP stroke medication was still packed in her bag for three days.
The juices, teas, food, we gave the nurses for her was still unopened and sealed. We lost mum after four days of pain. Mum died due to negligence. It was a very painful death. May God hear our cry!”
Most residents now feel government needs to employ more nurses and doctors, or to start allowing selected relatives to be by the bedsides of patients through out and help with the care.
“Hire assistants, so the nursing stuff can concentrate on medication, so our loved ones do not have to die unnecessarily painful deaths, ” Miti suggests. “Oh God, it’s better not to know how your person died in a COVID centre, “she cries out.
As a result of such negative reports, some patients are shying away from health centres, with a number of them dying at home.
Cases of home deaths have risen lately, according to Lusaka province Permanent Secretary, Elias Kamanga.
“There are a number of brought-in-dead persons, that are suspected to have died of COVID 19 and this has overwhelmed our capacity in terms of our mortuary services, ” said Kamanga, recently.