In Zimbabwe, Weak Water and Health Systems Heighten Vulnerabilities during COVID-19 Crisis

Like much of the rest of the world, Zimbabwe has confronted the COVID-19 pandemic with stay-at-home orders and advice to practice social distancing and frequent handwashing, hoping to prevent a wave of infections that would overwhelm the national health-care system. But the country entered the COVID-19 period with a number of pre-existing challenges that could threaten an effective response to the crisis. A lack of water has been a frequent problem in cities as well as rural areas, making both handwashing and staying at home difficult. An underfunded health-care system has been further weakened by repeated strikes by nurses and doctors complaining of poor pay and working conditions, some of whom have been fired as a result. Afrobarometer survey data from 2017 and 2018 confirm citizens’ experiences and perceptions of these problems. A majority of people reported going without enough clean water and without needed medical care. Many said water and health-care services are difficult to obtain. And citizens have consistently described the government’s performance in providing these services as inadequate. While these findings predate COVID-19, they suggest the background against which Zimbabwe must take on the pandemic.