Field Based Evidence on the Impact of COVID-19 on Citizens in Zimbabwe – Vol 2

Introduction

Since March 2020 Zimbabwe has been fighting the Covid-19 virus using an already weak health delivery system. The Covid-19 outbreak occurred while the country is undergoing massive economic decline with the unpredictable local currency forcing service providers to increase their prices. The cost of living for a family of five increased by 254.27% from January 2020 to December 2020 while salaries have not increased correspondingly. The government has largely had to ‘learn-on-the-go’ in addressing the competing yet equally important priorities of the citizens, business community and its oversight responsibilities. Globally Covid-19 has been a formidable challenge even for the more advanced economies. There have been some attempts to assist developing economies to effectively respond to Covid-19. Zimbabwe, alongside others, has received some assistance from multilateral agencies such as the World Bank.

The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has also come up with a number of mitigatory measures. On the 30th of March 2020, the GoZ announced a ZWL$600 million cash transfer program targeting 1 million vulnerable households during the Covid-19 lockdown period. The GoZ also announced a COVID-19 economic recovery and stimulus package which is aimed at supporting different economic sectors such as agriculture (ZWL$6 billion), mining (ZWL$1 billion), tourism (ZWL$0.5 billion), SMEs (ZWL$0.5 billion), and arts (ZWL$0.02 billion) and for the expansion of social safety nets (ZWL$3.9 billion), setting up a health sector support fund (ZWL$1 billion), and scaling investments in social and economic infrastructure in Cyclone Idai affected communities (ZWL$18 billion).

It is in this context that the SIVIO Institute is implementing the “Improving Citizen Participation in Influencing and Overseeing the National Response to COVID-19” program. This report presents evidence on the broad impact of Covid-19 on citizens across the country.

Conclusion and pointers for what could be done

Governance and management of the national response

Zimbabwe, like the rest of the world, was unprepared to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and has had to re-purpose funds from other areas and channel them towards the Covid-19 response. The theme that reverberates, mainly in key informant interviews, is that response measures were developed “on-the go” hence the limited consultation of the public. The absence of public consultation is a significant barrier to understanding and addressing the priorities of people most affected by response measures. Respondents rated the GoZ as “Very Poor” on 7 out of 11 performance indicators deployed in the survey. This points to a serious disillusionment with the government’s response hence participants describe the GoZ as “corrupt”, “incompetent”, “simply doing nothing” and “not transparent”. The handling of procurement of Covid-19 supplies, the opaque identification, and selection of beneficiaries of the government’s social assistance program as well as the management of public complaints against police and army brutality against civilians violating lockdown protocols all add weight to calls for radical changes in the approach towards managing the national response. Improved consultations of the public and community-level stakeholders can secure broad inputs into the national response strategy and the mechanisms of implementation. This can secure buy in from the public and get the public to identify with and participate in the response activities.

Socio-economic support measures

The national lockdown, controlled population movements and as intended, helped bring down the curve of infections, but also barricaded most people’s access to their sources of livelihood and incomes. With most people’s livelihoods being reliant on informal sector activities, the lockdown and abrupt halting of informal economy activities was a formidable threat to household food security. Respondents highlighted that providers of basic goods and services kept increasing their prices to stay afloat in a contracting economy and some sought to profiteer. The net effect was that conditions worsened for poor households. In many instances, breadwinners who used to support their family/extended family were forced to cut down on that support. The government needs to put in place clear measures and a transparent road to safeguard the vulnerable and poor. Such a roadmap must incorporate input from the poor and vulnerable before it is implemented and, in this way, GoZ can honour its social assistance promises to vulnerable groups.

Health services including prevention and treatment

The health response was handicapped by resource and infrastructural limitations. Non-state actors managed to contribute financially and materially but the overarching responsibility for this lay with the government. Health care delivery was also negatively affected by the strikes by health workers in public hospitals. The reduced operating hours imposed under the lockdown and the scaling down of available staff restricted communities’ access to health care facilities even for patients presenting with non-Covid-19 related conditions. Shortages of PPE and other essential medications and sundries operations were a double-edged sword: healthcare workers feared for their lives and the public lost confidence in the public health care delivery system. When respondents rated the GoZ as “Very Poor”, “Below Average” and “Average” on “Stopping transmission, preventing outbreaks and delay spread”, “Providing optimized care for all patients, especially the seriously ill” and “Minimising the impact of the epidemic on health systems, social services, and economic activity”. These ratings reflect the general perception towards the government’s health measures and indicate that multiple factors including strikes by medical personnel over remuneration, working conditions, unavailability of drugs and equipment were a major hindrance to an effective response. The government needs to improve on the availability of infrastructure at health facilities and to ensure that women and youth can access health services.

Read the full report here(4MB PDF)

Source: SIVIO Institute

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