Zambian Minister Tests Positive for Covid-19, Opposition Leader Says it’s a Decoy


May 23, 2020 changed the perspective of fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus in Zambia. For the first time since the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported in Zambia on March 18, a senior government official disclosed that she had tested positive to Covid-19.

Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dora Siliya who is also Chief Government Spokesperson has been a champion in the fight against Covid-19 in Zambia and now she adds to the statistics of those that have been infected with the virus.

Her disclosure  through a video posted on various social media platforms has spiked debate with some political players saying it was fake, adding that the Minister only wanted to gain political mirage and keep  both the internal and external donor assistance towards fighting the pandemic flowing in.

Saboi Imbolela, Spokesperson for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) does not believe that Ms Siliya did test positive for Covid-19.

“...until independent tests are done, I do not believe that the Chief Government Spokesperson has the coronavirus. These are high level, sophisticated, calculated politics... The funding from all over is making our leaders be more creative and daring. If Hon. Siliya is positive to Covid-19, I will make a public apology the same way I have made this public post, otherwise to me, these are just politics meant to get more money from donors…’’

However, Political Scientist Dr. Aex N’Goma says this is not the time for anyone to politick, but to join in efforts to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Dr. N’Goma who has been a lecturer of political science at the University of Zambia for 21 years and counting, says it is so shallow for any politician to suggest that anyone person serving in government would fake a disease for attracting donor funding.

“..why should  people think that the best way to get money from donors is faking a disease, people should be realistic and call a spade a spade, the PF as the party in government has not played  politics in handling the Covid-19, they have provided leadership…’, said Dr N’Goma.

The Scholar encouraged Zambians to not play politics saying it was important for the human being to remain human and show empathy, put politics aside, adding that, Ms Siliya did not test herself, that was done by others who declared, she was positive.

Since the first cases of Covid-19 were announced in Zambia on March 18, there has been so much speculation on which prominent people, especially senior government officials had been tested for Covid-19 and preceded into self-isolation.

However, in what seemed to have been an accidental exposure during a virtual meeting on Covid-19 on March 31, with Vice President Inonge Wina and the Council of Ministers, Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufye revealed that some Permanent Secretaries and higher-ranking government officials had been quarantined.

According to medical ethics, no person is obliged to reveal their medical condition to anyone. Medical personal are also under oath not to break patient confidentiality.

Prof. Victor Mukonka is the Director of the Zambia National Public Health Institute.  He tells Timescape Magazine that although it was a personal choice for Ms Siliya to reveal her positive Covid-19 status; her move strengthens the fight against the virus in the country.

‘… elsewhere in the global, we have had prominent leaders test positive and make their status public but for us this is the first case of a government official going public. It shows that Covid-19 can affect anyone, no one is immune, and hopefully, this will strengthen our fight…’   

Prof. Mukonka is optimistic that as the cases continue to increase, more recoveries recorded, and possibly more revelations from people suffering from the virus, the public will not have to think about stigmatizing those found with the virus, and embrace the new way of living with the virus.

And Dr. John Kunda a Public Health Communications Specialist tells Timescape that the revelation by Ms. Siliya renders an impetus to the prevention narrative of Covid-19 as well ratifying the threat that the public faces. 

‘...She breaks from ranks and file of the general political fear of being labelled and ridiculed and scorns stigma in the face as the disease is seen as classless…It is at the service of population-level risk communication…She has demystified the space. I think space must be opened. Social media has defied traditional barriers…’

On the other hand, Hermit Nkhosana Hachilonde, the Pan African Radio News Editor said he had grown more anxious than ever.

“Yes, I am a journalist, but I must confess! I am now living in anxiety, I am more afraid of Covid-19…I am more worried since the Minister even after taking all precautions, washing her face and hands regularly, masking and observing social distancing as much as possible, she has tested positive for Covid-19…”  

However, the Director at ZNPHI Dr Victor Mukonko said disclosure also clearly changes the dynamics of fighting the virus in Zambia. This is because people now know that anyone can suffer from the virus and needs to be extra careful bearing in mind that while Covid-19 is highly infectious, mortality is extremely low.

He emphasized to Timescape that the government through the ZNPHI was shifting the strategy in the fight to stem the spread of the virus by focusing on care for the elderly, and children, adding that the virus was here to stay.