Most of last week I was in the city of lights, Johannesburg and because I was having so much fun being away from home, it completely left my mind that swine flu or A(H1N1) was reportedly resident, prevailing and spreading in South Africa. My work colleague and I traveled around and between Johannesburg and Pretoria for our various appointments. It was until the fourth day of our stay in South Africa that we were in a restaurant having breakfast and waiting to have a meeting with some of our partners that someone behind us suddenly started sneezing uncontrollably. In the wake of the swine-flu scare, the elderly woman was not even making an effort to cover her nose and mouth like anyone should who has got any flu, swine or not. My colleague and I just stared at each other, half realizing the risk of contracting swine flu and half annoyed and confused at the old woman’s carefree sneezing feat. Annoyed glances from around the restaurant went unnoticed by the chattering woman and I was half tempted to walk over to her table and admonish her for being so rude.
We are back in Zimbabwe but all weekend, I was pretty sickly with a sore throat, slight temperature and feeling restive. My family members thought I was just being paranoid when I insisted on being taken to the hospital in the thick of night on Saturday. I had had a genuine swine-flu scare and had been in high-risk zones, South Africa, the malls, restaurants, the airplane, and the airports. I was convinced I was going to die. It suddenly occurred to me that none of us really knew much about N1H1 in much the same way we had initially been indifferent to cholera until it claimed some of our own. It occurred to me that I had no idea where to go for testing, neither was I sure most of the doctors here were familiar with it or even knew how to recognize it.
Cases of swine flu have already been detected in Mutare. The state, which recently was unable to contain a cholera epidemic that killed more than 4000, and has a half dead health system claims it is on ‘high alert’ to combat swine flu. Meanwhile, doctors are once again on strike. The country’s health minister, Henry Madzorera said health surveillance teams have been deployed to all entry points into the country (including airports) to look out for suspected swine flu cases among people coming into the country. In May this year he said ‘Zimbabwe does not have drugs to treat the bug in its stocks, but is aware that WHO Africa Regional Centre has enough of the medicine and in the event that the drugs are needed we can get in touch with them’. Then in July he also said they have 21,400 courses of drugs to treat it. Yeah right. I don’t know what means they are using to observe potential swine-flu carriers but whatever it is, it is not thorough. I do not remember seeing anything like that at the airport. The ministry has also not made it clear where individuals who suspect they have the flu can go for free testing, as should be the case. I seriously doubt the government’s ability or will to deal with a swine-flu outbreak.
The government of Botswana has put in place a toll-free number for reporting any suspected cases of swine flu. South Africa has established centers for testing all over the country and is on a mission to educate its population on recognizing symptoms, treatment and how to avoid catching it. If our own government has put any serious and practical measures in place, then clearly there hasn’t been enough publicity about them. But if you ask me what make cell phone was stolen off Chinotimba, I will tell you.