HEALTH Minister Dr Jonas Chanda says disciplinary action has been taken against two health workers at the University Teaching Hospital, one of whom is already in police custody, for collecting money from people to carry out COVID-19 tests.

And Dr Chanda has announced that the country has recorded 687 new COVID-19 cases out of 6,255 tests conducted in the last 24 hours, with eight deaths.

Speaking during the routine COVID-19 updates, Thursday, Dr Chanda said an investigation had been launched at UTH to determine the extent of the dishonest dealings; vowing that bad eggs will not be allowed to tarnish the name of his ministry.

“It is disheartening that while the Ministry of Health under the guidance of His Excellency President Edgar Chagwa Lungu has been working tirelessly to restore the confidence of our partners and indeed the Zambian people in the health system, some unscrupulous individuals have been taking advantage of the very people we seek to serve to enrich their own pockets. Immediate disciplinary action has been taken against two individuals identified from a recent media exposé by MUVI Television at the University Teaching Hospital for illegally collecting money from patients for COVID 19 tests; one of whom is already in police custody. Thank you MUVI Television for your watchdog role and I urge the public to report any unscrupulous individuals extorting them,” Dr Chanda said.

“We have also restructured our testing facility at the UTH Out-Patient Department. We will not allow the image of the Ministry or Health to be tarnished by a few bad eggs. Internal investigations have been instituted extending to several departments to identify the full extent of these dishonest dealings. We are also working to ensure that our whistle blower channels continue to encourage members of the public to come forward in such circumstances. We are in the business of saving lives not taking advantage of our people. Let this serve as a stern warning to all would be offenders around the country in all health facilities, the Ministry of Health and statutory bodies that no bad eggs will be spared; we will take stern disciplinary action against all culprits, including instant dismissal, as provided for under the public service. Allow me to stress once more that all our dealings at every level must be done in with total accountability, transparency and integrity. We are closing all leaking taps and loopholes and we don’t want pilferage of resources, be it drugs, medical supplies or finances meant for the public. As part of the COVID-19 response, we have continued to ensure commodity security through provision of essential commodities including personal protective equipment and oxygen cylinders to our facilities around the country.”

And Dr Chanda said the cumulative number of confirmed cases recorded currently stood at 77,171.

“My fellow countrymen and women, the COVID-19 situation update for the last 24 hours is as follows: We recorded 687 new cases out of 6,255 tests conducted that is 11 percent positivity. The cases were reported from the following provinces: 185 Lusaka, 165 Luapula, 133 Copperbelt, 63 Eastern, 39 Southern, 25 Muchinga, 22 North-western, 20 Western, 18 Central, and 17 Northern. This brings the cumulative number of confirmed cases recorded to date to 77,171,” Dr Chanda said.

“On a sad note, we recorded eight deaths from the following provinces: Copperbelt two, Lusaka two, Eastern one, Luapula one, Northern one, and North Western one. The cumulative number of COVID-19 related deaths recorded to date now stands at 1,059. The deaths are classified as 575 COVID-19 deaths and 484 COVID-19 associated deaths. We have recorded a combined total of 997 discharges from both the COVID 19 isolation facilities and home management, bringing the cumulative number of recoveries to 70,800, that is 92 percent.”

Dr Chanda said the country currently had 5,312 active cases, with 5,034 under community management and 278 admitted to COVID-19 isolation facilities.

“We currently have 5,312 active cases, with 5,034 or 95 percent under community management and 278 or five percent admitted to our COVID-19 isolation facilities. Of those admitted, 199 that is about 72 percent are on Oxygen therapy and 52 or 19 percent are in critical condition. Although we continue to note a marked and encouraging reduction of upto 44 percent in the number of case admissions, from a high of around 500 to now 278 as of today, we continue to record high numbers of critically ill patients, most of whom report to the facility late. We urge the public and especially families taking care of COVID-19 patients under home management to please ensure that they seek medical attention early as this greatly improves patient outcomes,” Dr Chanda said.

“It is sad to note the rampant and blatant disregard of the simple yet effective five golden rules by Zambians. Countrymen and women, these rules, which are being implemented the world-over have been shown to reduce COVID-19 transmission by up to 80%. Countrymen and women, we hold the key. The answer to this COVID 19 pandemic is within our reach if we would only show consistent commitment to adherence to the guidelines, as opposed to letting our guard down each time we see positive gains in our response. And so as in customary, in closing my statement today, I urge each one to stop the spread of COVID-19 by remembering to 1) Mask up correctly and consistently; 2) Maintain physical distance; 3) Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer; 4) Avoid crowded places if possible, particularly super spreader events, or stay at home; and 5) Seek medical attention early if you are symptomatic.”

Dr Chanda urged the public to be vigilant on pharmaceutical companies who were defrauding citizens by selling purported COVID -19 cures.

“In line with our commitment to ensuring that we safeguard the interests of the public, I wish to commend the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) for the action taken against the manufacturers of PH tea. There is a tea which was being purported as a cure for COVID-19. So I want to Thank ZAMRA for the action taken against these manufactures of the PH tea. These are unverifield so-called COVID-19 cures and ZAMRA has taken action by closing the facility of these people who are duping our people. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no cure for COVID-19; do not be deceived by people who are only out to defraud you of your hard earned money. I also wish to commend ZAMRA for intervening in Eastern province against pharmaceutical outlets that were trading in Ivermectin. Another purported cure of COVID-19 which is mostly used in veterinary medicines in animals,” Dr Chanda said.

“I wish to note that according to a report provided by ZAMRA, there has been a reduction in the importation of Ivermectin for human use and that ZAMRA is closely monitoring and engaging with pharmaceutical outlets to ensure that the drug is only used for its intended purpose. Consultations with colleagues in veterinary medicine have indicated that the high use of the drug during this period, which has correlated with the current increase in parasitic infections in animals, Instead of drugs going to animals Ivermectin, other people channeled it to human beings and we will not allow that. I urge the public to be weary of undue social media influence to buy into these so called ‘cures’. Seek medical advice and prescriptions from trusted sources.”

Dr Chanda said the Ministry had scheduled March 4-6, 2021 as dates for holding hour long street prayer sessions for COVID-19.

“The Ministry of Health, as part of its COVID-19 response, has also been providing guidance with regard to the holding of public gatherings in a safe manner. We have engaged the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs with regard to the street prayers by the clergy scheduled for 4th to 6th March, 2021. The religious leaders have been provided with the necessary guidance for hour-long street prayer sessions and these sessions will also serve as a platform to disseminate information on COVID 19,” said Dr Chanda.

“We have stressed that there must be no crowding, physical distancing must be observed, and wearing of masks and adherence to general guidance must be maintained. We will be closely monitoring the situation at district, provincial and national level to ensure the prayers are conducted safely.”