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One week in, two weeks out: Health workers reduce exposure to Covid-19

Dr. Paulinus Sikhosana

Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
HEALTH workers, including nurses and doctors, will from today start reporting for duty for a week and go off duty for two weeks as part of measures to reduce their exposure to Covid-19.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, health workers have been on the frontline in the fight against Covid-19 that is straining the health sector.

Government is already paying a risk allowance to health workers who in the majority of cases perform duties that are less likely to be done from home.

Health workers had been working for “flexible hours”, an arrangement that was introduced through a collective bargaining agreement to cushion particularly nurses, who had gone on an indefinite strike citing erosion of their salaries by inflation. The workers would report for work on a few days a week, but working more hours than their usual shifts. Most nurses were now working two days a week for 12 hours a day. According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the new arrangement for health workers to go off for two weeks can be changed any time depending on the situation.

In an interview yesterday, Health Service Board chairperson Dr. Paulinus Sikosana said once health workers take off days, they would be tested for Covid-19 before reporting for duty again.

“That decision was made by the Ministry of Health and Child Care last week. The rationale was basically health workers get exposed to Covid- 19 patients. They rest and they will be tested before they come back to work and usually one shows signs between two to 14 days,” said Dr. Sikosana.

In a letter dated May 11 addressed to all provincial medical directors and chief executive officers, the then Health Ministry permanent secretary Dr. Agnes Mahomva said the new system will reduce exposure of health workers to Covid-19.

“Further to the letter from the Health Service Board where they effected the cancellation of flexible working hours for health workers due to the declaration of Covid-19 pandemic by President Mnangagwa, all provincial medical directors and chief executive officers should utilise the system outlined below which will minimise the risk of exposure to Covid -19.

“Health workers should, therefore, report for duty for one week continuously and take two weeks off to minimise exposure risk,” read the letter signed by Dr. Mahomva who was last week appointed by President Mnangagwa to the newly created post of chief coordinator, national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet.

Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Mr. Enock Dongo said when reporting for work, each shift will run for eight hours for nurses.

“With effect from tomorrow (today) nurses will be working one week in for eight hours and then two weeks out. We have new arrangements we want to reduce the number of days and hours that the nurses spend in the hospital environment,” said Mr. Dongo.

He said they were looking forward to engaging Government over the issue of remuneration.

While extending the lockdown for an indefinite period on Saturday, President Mnangagwa said the training of a large number of healthcare workers in various aspects of Covid-19 such as care, infection prevention and control as well as disease surveillance has been done and will continue.