A PREGNANT woman from Hwange in Matabeleland North recently lost her job and has become homeless with her two minor children after being abandoned by her boyfriend and family because she tested positive to Covid-19.
An ambulance crew picked her from the streets on a freezing Monday night with her children aged six and nine, who are not infected with the virus. She is now housed at an isolation centre with the children.
Her heartbreaking story exposes how some communities still stigmatise people infected with the coronavirus, more than 15 months after it hit the country.
The woman whose identity has been withheld for ethical reasons, tested Covid-19 positive upon visiting Lukosi Hospital in Hwange to receive prenatal care.
Sources said the woman was a maid at Baobab low density suburb but her employer was the first to chuck her out. She moved to her mother’s home in Mpumalanga DRC section where she was also chased away.
The woman is said to have sought refuge at her live-in boyfriend’s home in Mpumalanga suburb where she was also chased away.
A Hwange Local Board (HLB) ambulance crew located her on the street after an anonymous tip-off.
“HLB officials took her to the council clinic where she slept overnight before she was taken to File Miles Isolation Centre where she is now quarantined. The isolation centre is not ready to attend to any patient at the moment so the woman has to cook for herself and her children. There is no food and none of her relatives have come to assist her. Her live-in boyfriend came once and promised to return for the children. He has not been heard from ever since.
There is a real risk that she might even infect her children with Covid-19. She had to be rescued by well-wishers who had to bring food for her to cook at the facility,” said a source.
Hwange District Medical Officer Dr Fungai Musinami confirmed the case.
“We got a report that one patient that had been diagnosed Covid-19-positive had been chased away from where she stays. We managed to pick her up and have accommodated her at Five Miles Isolation Centre with her two children who are Covid-19 negative. In terms of being isolated with her kids, it’s not really a big problem because we have enough room so that they may not cross-contaminate each other while they are at File Miles,” said Dr Musinami.
“But obviously on humanitarian grounds, for someone to then be out on the street in the middle of the night with her children while also pregnant it’s not a good situation. It’s cold and uncomfortable. That was not a good situation for her. Yes, she might be getting medical care on her pregnancy but family support would have been good at this time. She does not having severe symptoms.”
She said the way the woman was handled points to stigmatisation and it was worrying that such cases should be reported at a time when there is so much information on Covid-19 being circulated.
Dr Musinami said not all Covid-19-positive patients need to be institutionally quarantined.
“That will overcome our health centres, it will overwhelm our staff. We have people who are Covid-19-positive but asymptomatic. We cannot be putting those people into facilities, where we would have people watching over them, feeding them and using all those resources when people can isolate at home. We are continuing to educate the community not to stigmatise but continue to practising precautions that we have been talking about. We will continue to talk about hand sanitisation, masking up and observing social distancing,” said Dr Musinami.
She said the isolation centre was able to handle non-critical cases as it does not have oxygen facilities.
Matabeleland North acting Provincial Medical Director Dr Munekayi Padingani said the province was recording an increase in the number of pregnant women testing Covid-19-positive.
“We are actually recording an outbreak of Covid-19 among women but our facilities are not equipped to handle pregnant women. We are mainly attending to those women whom we know would have recovered by the time they deliver. We don’t have theatres to assist in having women delivering in our institutions and we have to refer them to hospitals in Bulawayo,” said Dr Padingani.
He said delivering babies entails a lot of contact and this means that there is a need to enhance protection for health workers as well as the mother.
Centre for Health Communication Zimbabwe communications and advocacy officer Ms Andile Tshuma said the case exposed how women, especially pregnant ones can be vulnerable.
“This situation is even stressful for her unborn child because when the mother is stressed, the child would become stressed as well. This will affect the woman’s well-being especially at a time the country is dealing with high cases of maternal mortality cases. We are also hearing that Covid-19 cases among pregnant women are on the increase at hospitals such as Mpilo Central Hospital. This means that Government has to pay attention to improving access to health care particularly on maternal health care,” said Ms Tshuma.
She said the case also points to issues of stigmatisation where communities do not seem to understand Covid-19 issues.
Ms Tshuma said as Covid-19 cases are mainly reported at institutional level, such incidents could lead to some women shunning health centres because of fear of being confirmed as having the virus.