Don’t forget impact of Covid-19 on Zimbabwe rural communities

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“I PARTIALLY heard about coronavirus on my neighbour’s radio and I only picked up that I should wash my hands and keep my distance from people. Other than this, I haven’t gotten any more information about the disease,” said Ms Annah Mpofu (52) from Kariangwe area in Binga, Matabeleland North province.

She disturbingly revealed that nothing had been done to to raise her awareness on the Covid-19 pandemic, so that she could provide her children and aging mother with the guidance and support needed to protect them from the deadly global pandemic.

From her revelations it is clear that she felt people from rural communities were being left behind, in the Covid-19 response even though many of them were part of the high-risk groups.

While all eyes are on urban areas, the impact of Covid-19 on the rural communities where hospitals don’t have the resources for the pandemic should also not be forgotten.

Compared to most urban areas, rural communities typically have less of most everything when it comes to health care and some rural communities have no hospital at all.

For example, Covid-19 testing availability is also an issue in rural areas as large cities get preference with test kits. Testing becomes even more problematic if there’s no local hospital to serve as a coordinating centre or service point.

The call for more attention to rural areas came after some rural villagers in Murehwa and Mhondoro tested positive to the virus.

Experts in rural health are on record advising governments to take a systematic approach to tackling the coronavirus crisis rather than focusing solely on urban areas.

Amos Moyo, a village health worker said the impact of Covid-19 on rural communities could be devastating if the Government does not take action.

“It would be quite a short-sighted measure for government to focus their attention on urban areas while ignoring rural communities. Many people in rural communities don’t have access to information during this time as most of them have little or no access to social media, which has been the most effective tool to disseminate information. The Government should strive to make sure the needs of these communities are not forgotten,” said Moyo.

He said education was key to making sure that rural communities understand how the disease spreads, but without using complex technical language.

From Moyo’s observation it was also clear that it’s not easy to get information in hard-to-reach areas like rural communities at the best of times hence there was a need to support the Government in mitigating the adverse effects of Covid-19 by disseminating information on health awareness and education around Covid-19 and collect data on local impacts in remote communities.

In general, rural communities lack the health care capacity found in urban communities. Studies have also shown that, rural residents are older and have more underlying diseases such as diabetes and hypertension which makes them more susceptible to contracting Covid-19 and developing potential adverse outcomes.

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike also acknowledged that there had been little education, information and awareness campaigns in rural areas where a majority of the people do not have access to mainstream media such as television, radio and newspapers.

“Generally, there is a lot of misinformation as people rely on their peers for their source of information or social media for those that have cellphones. Social distancing is hardly being observed especially at funerals where huge numbers are still attending funerals to pay their last respects, whilst others continue to wash the dead bodies of their relatives without following the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on handling dead bodies. The traditional beer drinking gatherings are still a challenge as beer patrons can still be seen sharing a single beer mug and the cigarette sticks,” said Mr Rusike.

As part of their measures to fight the spread of the Covid-19 in rural communities, Mr Rusike said CWGH through Community Health Workers (CHWs) they have developed a framework for their (CHWs) roles in prevention, detection and response to the pandemic.

He said CWGH is also training CHWs on Covid-19 as trusted sources of information for community literacy and to support case tracing.

“Community Health Workers (CHWs) are playing a key role in the fight against Covid-19 as they are assisting with constructing hand washing stations at communal locations and in people’s homes and they are also connecting with each other using WhatsApp to solve problems.

“CHWs have also been brainstorming with local leaders and key stakeholders to devise locally generated solutions to challenges faced in implementing prevention measures,” said Mr Rusike.

He further said the government is expected to manage the pandemic effectively and strategically and in doing so they are supposed to inform and carry rural populations with it.

Added Mr Rusike: “Another issue is that Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) such as face masks and sanitizers are not readily available in rural areas and may be beyond the reach of many therefore there is need for the government to provide PPEs to its vulnerable populations in the rural areas including to school children and teachers when schools finally open so that they can protect the learners.

Chief Nemangwe of Gokwe South who also called on the government not to overlook the plight of rural areas said he was working with other community leaders, caregivers and village health workers raising awareness and putting up responsive measures in preventing the spread of the Covid-19 in all the areas under his jurisdiction.

“As a Chief and with help from herdsman, village heads and village health workers we are essentially making information available to villagers so that they can prevent the spread of Covid-19. Since it’s also harvest season, we are strongly monitoring gatherings such as humwe (cooperation in field works) so that they won’t be over 50 people. We are also emphasising hygiene to help keep the Covid-19 virus out of people’s homes,” Chief Nemangwe.

He said although people in rural communities live socially distant, but they work in crowded environments making them more susceptible to the deadly novel coronavirus.

“At first there were many myths about the coronavirus as people believe it was only those in urban areas who are vulnerable to contracting the disease but through our campaigns those myths have been dispelled,” said Chief Nemangwe.