COVID-19 infant death opens can of worms

By Bernard Chiketo

HWANGE – The recent classification of a three-week-old infant with multiple congenital complications in Hwange as a COVID-19 statistic has divided medical opinion.

At the time of going to Press, the parents’ actual medical status were yet to be determined due to a shortage of testing kits but with both said to be currently asymptomatic.

With some experts questioning the accuracy of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test – which is not foolproof – others are pushing hard for the cause of the child’s death to be classified as COVID-19.

Any change in the classification would, however, naturally upset some in government and trigger serious debate on the accuracy of most COVID-19 post mortems.

A posthumous positive PCR test on the late Lands minister Perrance Shiri was recently used to quash voices suggesting that the Lands minister’s sudden death was not COVID-19 related.

The late career soldier was a longtime friend of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.

Chiwenga himself also appeared to question if Shiri died of COVID-19, probably considering the almost rapid progression (just less than a week) of the disease.

Further investigations by this publication show that although the death of the baby was added to the bracket of COVID-19 statistics, there is still uncertainty within the local medical circles on the actual COVID-19 status of the Hwange baby.

The Hwange neonate was born at St Patrick’s Hospital through normal delivery, but with a number of congenital disorders including a cleft palate, nasal hypo genesis and absence of septum, anal malposition as well as low set ears.

It was then immediately referred to Mpilo General Hospital for management by experts for at least three months or until such time when the baby attained an average 5.4kg before surgery could be performed.

The child remained admitted at the Bulawayo General Hospital until its discharge a week before it passed on at home on August 6.

A PCR test was done, and it came out COVID-19 positive, leading to its classification as a COVID-19 case, the second such death in the world after a two-day-old infant died of the disease in South Africa in February.

Contact tracing was done and the whole family (unnamed) is in quarantine at home.

Medical experts, however, suspect that the baby could have died due to feeding challenges and not the global deadly epidemic.

“In terms of the cause of death, we strongly suspect the baby could have aspirated at home, given the challenges with feeding. We are considering this a death with Corona and not a death from Corona,” one medical expert said, arguing that a false PCR positive was less common compared to a lesser reliable rapid diagnostic test.

The baby, some think, might even have contracted the infection from the hospital.

“We have as yet avoided contemplating on the source of the infection and consider all contacts possible origins,” another health expert from the Matebeleland region said.

Others posit that with both parents negative, the COVID-19 positive findings on the Hwange baby could have been inaccurate, after all.

“I am thinking with both parents negative for COVID-19, can’t we also entertain the possibility of a false positive PCR result (on the baby)?Sensitivity of the test is not 100 percent,” said one medical expert.