ZVIMBA, Zimbabwe — For Pelagia Bvukura, who lives in a rural part of north-central Zimbabwe, COVID-19 has always been a “city disease,” affecting the capital Harare, or other, distant large cities.
“There was no virus for us. We only heard about it in Harare or other cities or when the people of the city died and we buried them here,” she said, referring to the recent custom in Zimbabwe, where city-goers were often asked to visit their families. He is buried in a rural house.
That’s what’s changing now. A new surge of the virus is finally entering Africa’s rural areas, where much of the continent’s people live, spreading into areas that were once seen as safe havens from infections that hit particularly hard-hit cities. used to influence.
His village of Zwimba, 110 kilometers (68 miles) from Harare, has not yet recorded a major increase in infections, but sits in a province that is the current epicenter of the virus.
“It is at our doorstep now. It is scary. We do not know how to protect ourselves. We have never faced a problem like this before,” she said.
Like many people here, he was not wearing a mask and has not been vaccinated yet.
Africa has recorded more than 5.3 million cases and is experiencing the worst of a wave driven by more infectious and deadly forms. The continent recorded a 39% increase in new cases in the week between June 14-20, according to the World Health Organization.
Far from homes, with few visitors and rare public gatherings, rural areas appeared so untouched that they attracted some people from cities to escape infection and economic hardship.
“It was a dangerous, false sense of security. Now a tragedy is unfolding,” said Dr. Johannes Marisa, president of the Zimbabwe Association of Medical and Dental Private Practitioners in Harare.
The delta variant that has ravaged India has been found in at least 14 African countries, including Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and not just in cities.
“We are starting to see an upward trend in rural and marginalized areas,” Edward Simiu, Ugandan country director of charity group Mercy Corps, said in a statement in June.
In Zimbabwe, three of the four districts under strict lockdown and declared as the epicenter of the outbreak are in the predominantly rural Mashonaland West province, which recorded more than half of the 801 cases reported last weekend. Other hot spots are also largely rural, a first for this country.
“We are going to see a lot of deaths, especially from rural areas. COVID-19 is now coming from rural areas,” Marisa said, attributing the spike to a “high degree of complacency”, with information being prioritized to urban areas and a lack of some vaccinations.
The virus can also spread at funerals when city residents return to visit rural relatives.
“I was recently at a funeral in a rural area and people were surprised to see me wearing a mask,” he said.
Rural areas have inadequate facilities to cope with the increase, and urban health care facilities are under pressure to treat the increasing number of people from rural areas. Zimbabwe’s leading referral hospital in Harare, Parirenatwa, is prioritizing beds for COVID-19 patients.
“Parinenyatwa is almost full. These are not the people of Harare. The condition of health facilities in rural areas is pathetic, so all those people are being referred to city hospitals,” said Marisa.
In Mozambique’s remote Tete province, a hotbed of infection where the delta variant was recorded, President Filipe Nyusi expressed concern.
“We don’t have many beds. … We don’t have many health workers in Tete either,” Nyusi said.
Because health care facilities in rural areas in places like Uganda are more poorly staffed than in urban areas, “the penetration of COVID-19 infections into these rural and vulnerable areas is likely to be devastating, with people slipping into poverty.” The risk, Mercy Corps’ Simiu said, “is worsening social inequalities, divisions and conflicts.”
Rural residents are finding it difficult to get vaccinated due to weak public health systems and problems with vaccine delivery. According to the WHO and the Africa Center for Disease Control, only 1% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have been vaccinated.
The Zvimba Rural District Hospital had only a handful of coronavirus vaccines, which were reserved for the second dose, its staff said.
But even after a vaccine is available, “the ability of health systems to absorb and deliver those doses – particularly in rural communities – is the next big problem on the horizon,” said Sean Granville, Mercy Corps’ Africa regional director. Ross said. In an interview with The Associated Press.
“A risk vaccines in African capitals warehouses could be spoiled if countries are not prepared to carry on with massive vaccination campaigns, with health infrastructure already weak in the hardest-hit rural areas, as is believed by the public. health system,” Granville-Ross said.
Those in rural areas desperate for vaccines, including the elderly, stay away from hospitals and clinics.
Matrida Tendai, who is 100, said she is too weak to walk to the nearest clinic in Dema, a rural area about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Harare, even though a vaccine is available.
“I was waiting and waiting,” she said. “But they’re not coming.”
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