COVID-19 generates numerous scams

COVID-19 scams have included supposed cures, fake testing sites and counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE), Dr Katlego Mothudi, managing director of the Board of Healthcare Funders, a regional healthcare funders’ body, said last week.

Addressing an Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe all stakeholders’ webinar on health on Wednesday, he gave examples of how conmen had even used the name of the World Health Organisation advertising that the WHO was giving away vaccine kits, with just $4.95 required for shipping!

Many of the schemes have been web-based but they also include door-to-door visits offering fake testing either for payment or as a way of conducting robberies.

The pandemic also provided an opportunity for medical aid frauds such as the submission of telehealth claims, which were accepted in South Africa in view of the COVID-19 lockdown which made it difficult for people to visit a doctor.

Dr Mothudi was one of a number of speakers dealing with different aspects of healthcare in the aftermath of COVID-19. He spoke also on the broader issue of medical aid frauds that include fraudulent medical aid claims and use of medical aid cards by non-medical aid members.

Dr Gerald Tsoka, president of the Zimbabwe Dental Association, spoke of the difficulties the pandemic had presented for dentists.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the practice of dentistry in ways only seen during the advent of HIV in the early ‘80s,” he said.

The majority of dental procedures generate aerosols that potentially harbour infections, he said. Measures that dentists have had to take include more PPEs, aerosol suction to help clean the air in operating rooms and leaving about 30 minutes between seeing each patient.

This had resulted in increased cost for the purchase of PPE and aerosol suction equipment, with a dentist able to see fewer patients than before.

With technology coming to the fore during the pandemic, New Health 263 head of operations Sharon Chiweshe told participants of some of the challenges that were faced in trying to persuade doctors and other healthcare providers to switch from paper-based records to adopting new technology.

She said it was unbelievable but true that some of those she interfaced with in the health sector were computer illiterate.

Affordability was another deterrent to the adoption of internet-based technology, which would improve efficiency save space currently used for records and enable medical aid claims to be submitted in real time, resulting in quicker payment of claims.

Dr Lazarus Chitambo, national president of the College of Primary Care physicians of Zimbabwe stressed the importance of implementing national COVID-19 control measures at grassroots level. Disseminating information only in urban or peri-urban areas would potentially lead to outbreaks of the virus in rural areas, he pointed out.

Dealing with access to medicines, Retail Pharmacists’ Association chairperson Jocelyn Chaibva pointed out that research being conducted into possible vaccines against COVID-19 and treatments for it cost money, costs which could only be recovered when a vaccine or drug was finally marketed.

Medicines were expensive, she said, because of factors such as the research involved in developing and distributing them. Other costs which drove up the prices of medicines included the cost of sourcing the drugs and pharmacists’ overheads, which included annual licences as well as the cost of ensuring the pharmacy remained stocked with adequate supplies of the drugs that customers expected to find when they visited the pharmacy.

She pointed out that generic drugs were cheaper than branded drugs, even when manufactured by the same company.

Mr Tonderai Kadzere, depyty director policy and planning in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, provided a comprehensive overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s healthcare.

He said the rate of maternal and child deaths remained a cause for concern. The lockdown, he pointed out, had resulted in fewer antenatal visits to clinics.

Zimbabwe also remained one of the countries heavily burdened by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, with an HIV prevalence rate of 13,7 percent within the 15 to 49 age group, with a higher prevalence among females than males.

He said funding remained a major challenge with some health programmes heavily dependent on donor funds.

He intimated that the National Health Scheme, which had been on the cards for some time, was actively being pursued.

Closing the proceedings AHFoZ chief executive Shylet Sanyanga expressed the hope that next year it might be possible to resume holding an all stakeholders conference where participants were physically present.

Successful though the webinars had been, human beings were social beings, she said.

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