HEALTH Minister Dr Jonas Chanda has directed Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) and the National Health Research Authority to ensure citizens are protected from uncertified COVID-19 remedies which promise to cure infection.

Speaking during the weekly update in Lusaka, Wednesday, Dr Chanda urged citizens to be vigilant and not allow themselves to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous elements who sought to cash in on the pandemic.

“We have continued to scale-up our capacity to test and manage our COVID-19 patients. Yet, we are also aware of elements within our society who wish to take advantage of the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic for their own economic and financial gain. I appeal to each one of us to remain vigilant and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of and, therefore, I hereby direct ZAMRA and the National Health research Authority as regulators to step in and ensure that the best interests of Zambia’s citizenry are protected and only safe, certified remedies are available to the public. And this, I am referring to the issue of a number of unlicensed pharmaceutical products or drugs, pills, tablets that are claiming that they are a cure for COVID-19. I think ZAMRA and that National Health Research Authority as regulators, you don’t need to be reminded of the duties given to you by law,” Dr Chanda said.

“In addition, government has also said, it’s safe to use local traditional remedies such as ukufutikila, you call it steaming, that is supported under government policy in addition to the five golden rules. However, no drugs like the ones I am talking about, which have come from China, LH36 and others have been certified by the Ministry of Health.”

And Dr Chanda announced that Zambia recorded 1,439 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours with seven deaths and 1,709 recoveries.

“In the last 24 hours, Zambia has recorded 1,439 new cases out of 11,179 tests performed. The cumulative number of tests nationally now stands at 40,954. We have discharged 1,709 patients from both our facilities and home-based management. This brings the cumulative number of recoveries to 29,775. Regrettably, we recorded a total of seven new COVID-19 related deaths countrywide and the cumulative number of deaths is now at 590. The deaths have been classified as follows, 225 COVID-19 deaths, 342 associated deaths, 32 pending classification,” he said.

Dr Chanda added that the country now had 394 patients in admission out of 10,589 active cases with 245 on oxygen therapy and 31 in a critical condition.

“In terms of case management, we currently have 10,589 active cases. Of these, 394 patients are admitted to our various health facilities with 245 on oxygen therapy 31 of whom are critical. 10,195 are home-based or community management so it shows that the majority of COVID-19 patients, 96 per cent, actually, are being managed under community management and that is government policy. It doesn’t mean that when someone gets COVID-19, it’s an automatic hospital admission so that is the direction that the Ministry is taking,” Dr Chanda explained.

He, however, called for private health facilities to come on board in that those with necessary equipment should be allowed to admit COVID-19 patients to effectively tackle the virus.

Meanwhile, Dr Chanda emphasised the need for the result turnaround time to be reduced to between 24 and 48 hours as results released later than that are of no value to the fight against the pandemic.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, if people are not going to get results when they are tested, you test someone today, then you give them a result after one month; then of what value is that result because someone will test today and then one month later, you are in Shoprite shopping then you receive a call, ‘oh, sorry, you have just tested positive.’ That’s one month ago, maybe the infection has resolved or someone has died or whatever, that’s why we are saying turnaround time for COVID-19 testing should be 24 to 48 hours, short of that then it becomes useless! Why do a test that you will not get a result and then if you don’t know the result for one month? How many people has that person transmitted to because it becomes very difficult to even do contact tracing because normally we know that for every positive case, we need to contact-trace five people. Now, one month without results, you need to contact-trace 1,000 to 2,000 people,” said Dr Chanda.

“So, that is why we are saying, our lab people…and we have calls everyday, we want to work on a turnaround time of a very short period, ideally 24 hours at the most, 48 hours because those are the results that instigate contact tracing, thus making sure that we act quickly in terms of a community spread. But once there is a huge backlog and I know the backlog sometimes these labs have been overwhelmed! I don’t have the exact it could be in the thousands. So, those kinds of results will not add value because even if you release positive cases today, which happened three months ago, of what value? Those people would have been infected, recovered and maybe re-infected.”