Review & Mail Correspondent
On Monday, a medical team from China’s Hunan Province bade farewell to Zimbabwe after spending two weeks in the southern African country where they toured Covid-19 facilities, donated goods and exchanged notes with local health leaders.
The team included experts from respiratory departments, infectious disease departments, and the fields of intensive medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, infection control, public health and nursing.
The visit was among the first of its kind in Africa amid the Covid-19 global pandemic and held huge symbolic value.
Zimbabwe is one of the countries on the continent that China has significant interests in, economically and politically.
Chinese medical help and other assistance extended during the Covid-19 crisis have a an unmistakable reconfigured aspect as China has ploughed social investments into the country.
Health cooperation and humanitarian assistance brings a new, hitherto underexplored area.
Lessons & Insights
The two week exchange will no doubt carry lessons for both sides, with Zimbabwe benefiting from the experience of a country that has successfully turned the tide on the pandemic after recording the first cases last December.
For the Chinese team, they had a chance to explore how a typical African country – a whole new terrain altogether – has been affected and coped with the virus.
Among other engagements and tours, the team met President Mnangagwa; visited three provinces, held a workshop for health specialists from Bulawayo, Midlands & Matabeleland.
On May 22 the team presented written recommendations on Zimbabwe’s fight against COVID-19 to Health Minister Obadiah Moyo at a joint press event with the Chinese Embassy and Ministry of Health.
At the end of the tour, the Chinese Embassy tweeted: “After 2 weeks of lively exchange of ideas and visits to frontline, Chinese medical experts left Zimbabwe today, leaving behind firsthand experience and confidence & bringing with them inspirations and love from Zimbabwe. A new beginning for bilateral cooperation is upon us.”
Focus on mental health, resilience
There are many technical aspects that the experiences and recommendations of the Chinese team could shed light on.
However, Zimbabweans – and Africans in general – could also actively seek to understand how China dealt with mental health issues, especially among health workers.
China provides a critical example of the challenges of mental health burden, and building resilience in the face of daunting situations.
Zhang and others, writing in the journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics a paper titled “Mental Health and Psychosocial Problems of Medical Health Workers during the COVID-19 Epidemic in China” note that medical health workers are first-line fighters treating patients with COVID-19 and every day, they face a high risk of being infected and are exposed to long and distressing work shifts to meet health requirements.
They argue that,
“In brief, they are exposed to a protracted source of distress which may exceed their individual coping skills…”
This is corroborated by MS Spoorty in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry who notes that the reasons for such adverse psychological outcomes in health workers range from excessive workload/work hours, inadequate personal protective equipment, over-enthusiastic media news, feeling inadequately supported.
Another important reason for such psychological impact, according to Spoorty, is the infection rate among medical staff.
“The sudden reversal of role from HCW (healthcare worker) to a patient might lead to frustration, helplessness, adjustment issues, stigma, fear of discrimination in the medical staff,” says Spoorty.
With China emerging on top, there are key measures that Zimbabwe could take a leaf from.
Studies in Asia indicated that coping measures used by medical staff were strict protective measures, knowledge of virus prevention and transmission, social isolation measures, positive self-attitude and social support.
Seeking help from psychotherapists, psychiatrists and media could help, depending on the severity of the condition. – R&M