Community Development Health

Celebrating unsung COVID-19 response heroines: more than mothers, community gatekeepers, champions

Dr Agnes Mahomva, Chief COVID-19 Coordinator in The President's Office

By Catherine Murombedzi

PART 1

Like birds in flight, the wind under their arms propels them to soar higher. A toast to the heroines of the Covid-19 response in Zimbabwe. There are more unsung heroines not mentioned by name in this article. Thank you all. The adage “when you educate a woman, you have educated a nation” holds true. A toast to the women who braved the infectious wave to save others.

With resource-constrained hospital settings, Covid-19 was expected to have a playing field. However, the quick response of local scientists in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, (MoHCC) averted what awaited to be a catastrophe.

The Government of Zimbabwe declared the pandemic an emergency on March 24, 2020.

“…I declare a national lockdown effective on 30 March 2020 to curb the spread of Covid…,” his Excellency, Hon Emmerson Mnangagwa declared.

Only frontline workers and essential services were allowed to travel to work. Intercity travel was banned, and the virus did not move, people moved it.

The rest of us, stayed home, afraid to get sneeze.

The World Health Organisation, (WHO) had on 11 March declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.

A stitch in time saves nine, the lockdown was painful but necessary.

Zimbabwe invoked measures to halt the spread, thereby mitigating the worst possible scenarios. To this credit were women of substance who deserve a feather in their caps.

Spiked Online Media profiles them, below:

Dr. Agnes Mahomva, Chief Covid-19 coordinator in the President’s Office

She is a great woman, a medical doctor appointed to head the Covid-19 national response. Dr. Agnes Mahomva, an expert in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, (PMTCT) changed the life-threatening tide of HIV infections in babies when she headed the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation, (EGPAF) before being appointed the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, (MoHCC).

She did not disappoint in her new role in 2020 amidst global public health. She held marathon meetings with her team of experts and informed the nation of the risks without spreading alarm. She safely steered the ship from stormy infectious terrain to sail in stable waters.

“We are not yet out of the woods,” became her mantra of caution. As of 16 October 2022, the country has managed to contain the infectious wave, with 12 new infections and 2 deaths. The recovery rate stands at 98%. A total 257 905 cases were recorded, and of these, 251 916 recovered with mortality standing at 5 608,” she said.

Dr. Angela Mushavi

A friend of pregnant mothers, Dr. Mushavi has been a team player in the PMTCT war. Heading the department in the MoHCC, hers is a dedication to work. She has been a driver of the, “no baby must be born with HIV in Zimbabwe…”


Dr Angela Mushavi, PMTCT Co-ordinator in the Ministry of Health and Child Care

Currently, Zimbabwe is at 8.7% and strives to have less than 5% of babies born infected with HIV. She strives for zero HIV infections in newborn babies. It’s possible if all expectant mothers booked for the antenatal clinic, (ANC) on time. In 2021, due to Covid-19, 15% of pregnant mothers missed antenatal clinics, and they missed HIV testing and treatment.

The babies were all commenced on anti-retroviral therapy, (ART). On 19 January, in the heat of the second wave, Dr. Mushavi lost her mother to Covid-19. May her soul rest in peace.

Dr. Anna-Mary Nyakabau

An oncologist of repute, Dr. Nyakabau is the adviser to the Minister of Health on Cancer. She is currently working on the National Cancer Strategy. She has called on community input and her presence in various virtual forums is amazing as she gathers information firsthand.


Dr Anna-Mary Nyakabau, an oncologist, Covid-19 survivor

Cancer got a severe knock from Covid-19. With intercity travel banned, some cancer patients failed to travel for treatment. With only Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo and Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals offering radiotherapy services, the constraints were exacerbated by the frequent breaking down of the machines. In the Strategy, equipping hospitals is a priority.

On 31 December, Dr. Nyakabau bade farewell to the national service after working for 30 years. I guess she only changed stations, she is still on national service with dedication to the formulation of the Cancer National Strategy.

She survived Covid-19 in 2021.

“I became a patient myself, the near-death experience opened my eyes resulting in me being empathetic and listening more to patients,” said Dr. Nyakabau in a virtual forum as she spoke as a survivor.

As a frontline worker, she was there in the mix with cancer patients all the way. Cancer is one of the non-communicable diseases in need of funding in Zimbabwe.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende