The ICJ today called on the responsible authorities to adopt urgent measures to ensure the equal protection of the right to health and life of the country’s inhabitants in the wake of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
The call came amidst indications that official response has been inadequate and poorly conceived.
Although Zimbabwe has only three officially confirmed COVID-19 cases and one casualty so far, the true figures are likely to be higher.
Media reports indicate that the health care facilities designated to deal with COVID-19 cases are severely under equipped. Doctors and nurses have announced that they are withdrawing their services because government is failing to provide them with protective clothing such as masks and gloves.
“The ICJ is deeply concerned by the poor state of preparedness of the Zimbabwean Government to handle COVID-19 cases,” said Arnold Tsunga, ICJ African Programme Director.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore cracks in health systems and presented governments everywhere with unprecedented challenges. The government’s response should however remain steeped in obligations espoused in the Constitution and international legal instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party,” he added.
The ICJ called on the Government of Zimbabwe to take urgent measures, include those aimed at ensuring that its healthcare system can provide for adequate screening, testing and care for COVID-19 patients.
The ICJ said that the Government must also investigate reports of the mishandling of patients, increase transparency and regular communication with the public and dedicate more resources to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zimbabwe announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 21 March. The first casualty was recorded on 23 March. On 25 March 2020, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare reported that a total of 100 people had been tested for COVID-19. Of these, 96 were negative, three tested positive and one test was found to be inconclusive.
Zimbabwe is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which imposes a duty to protect the right of everyone to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Zimbabwe is also party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, both of which guarantee the right to life.
Pursuant to Section 76 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the government must provide access to basic health care services to all citizens and residents. Further, section 76 (3) of the Constitution enjoins government to ensure that no person is denied emergency medical treatment in any health care facility. In addition, government has an obligation, under section 51 of the Constitution, to protect human dignity.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has set out the minimum standards which must be fulfilled at all times for States that are party to the IECSCR;
- Quality: Heath care facilities should be equipped with necessary equipment and medicine including safe and adequate water, sanitation and skilled medical professionals.
- Availability: Health care facilities with adequately trained and fairly-paid medical personnel and essential medicines should be made available to all.
- Accessibility: Health care facilities should be accessible to all without discriminating. Accessibility also includes physical accessibility, economic accessibility and access to information.
- Acceptability: Health care services should be provided in a manner that complies with medical ethics.
Measures undertaken by the Government of Zimbabwe, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic must adhere to these minimum standards. However, the ICJ has noted the following allegations and reports from credible media sources;
- Gross under-testing of people despite showing most of the COVID-19 symptoms;
- Absence of protective gear for health care workers;
- Lack of training of health care workers on the proper handling of COVID-19 related patients;
- Mishandling/ill treatment of patients at COVID-19 health care centres;
- Absence of equipment such as ventilators and respirators;
- Absence of running water at designated COVID-19 health care centres;
- Insufficient staffing at the designated COVID-19 care and isolation centres, as a result of some doctors and nurses having gone on strike;
- Government is establishing fully equipped COVID-19 health care facilities but exclusively for the political elites and their associates.
Arnold Tsunga, Director of the ICJ Africa Regional Programme, t: +263 77 728 3248, e: arnold.tsunga(a)icj.orgNews