Alarm over Eastern Cape crisis is 'fake news' says province

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The SA Medical Association and Médecins Sans Frontières have called on doctors to volunteer against an Eastern Cape COVID-19 surge, while the COVID-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee’s Prof Salim Abdool has warned that if not contained immediately, South Africa risks being engulfed in a second wave.

However, reports the Sunday Times. Eastern Cape Health has dismisses “alarmist” reports that it's struggling to cope as “fake news”.

SAMA) said in a statement that it is “alarmed about the severe lack of leadership in the Eastern Cape Department of Health”. It came out in support of calls by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for doctors to volunteer providing their services “to help deal – on a short-term basis – with the growing crisis at this hospital, and indeed throughout the province. ”

The Sunday Times reported that Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who last week met in Port Elizabeth with local business and political leaders, has denied there were talks about placing the metro under heavier restrictions, but this was contradicted by a regional ANC leader who said Mkhize's meeting had agreed that the metro should move back to level 3 of lockdown.

Mkhize said: “No decision has been taken about putting Nelson Mandela Bay on level 3. We are looking at what needs to be done in terms of restrictions that will help to support our facilities as well as also reinforce [compliance]… We will be able to announce that once a decision has been taken.”

Abdool Karim was quoted in the Sunday Times report as saying that he was worried about factory closures on 16 December, when “hundreds of thousands of people travel across the country, some to the Eastern Cape. Three weeks later, when the holidays are over, they will be taking the virus throughout the country.”

“Unfortunately the Eastern Cape health department does not have the kind of capability that we see in many of our provinces. They could not quell the outbreak. It was not controlled adequately and, before we knew it, had spread. The way to stop a national outbreak is to get the Eastern Cape situation under control now.”

Professor Mosa Moshabela, dean of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's School of Nursing and Public Health, said: “We are witnessing a second surge localised to the Eastern Cape currently … This will likely trigger a surge in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Gauteng will trigger all other provinces after the holidays, towards the end of January, and through February and March.”

However, Eastern Cape Health spokesperson spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo is quoted in the Sunday Times as saying that reports that the province is not coping are “fake news” and it was was unfair to call the department “poorly run”.

“This is an unfortunate, gross exaggeration … which is causing unnecessary alarm. NMB has 2,100 beds and of these, 199 are at Livingstone Hospital, which has also created an additional 73 beds. ICU bed occupancy at Livingstone is currently at 50%. The hospital has appointed six additional doctors and over 100 various nursing categories.”

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of SAMA said that simply having beds available is not enough — hospitals need to be adequately equipped and staffed. “Lack of funded posts puts a significant strain on doctors. The current number of staff members in most hospitals is grossly inadequate, and health-care workers are exhausted, stressed and frustrated.”

Meanwhile, SAMA has said in a statement released on 1 December that it was “alarmed about the severe lack of leadership in the Eastern Cape Department of Health” which is compounding problems in the delivery of healthcare in the province.

“The fact that almost all critical posts at institutional and provincial level have no permanently employed leaders is of great concern; it is placing enormous strain on already overworked doctors, and insufficiently resourced hospitals.

“SAMA notes that while provincial Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba says there are enough beds in provincial hospitals to cope with demand, she is providing no clarity on future funding for doctors and nurses to care for patients who occupy those beds. Having available beds is not enough, the beds need to be serviced by adequately equipped staff and resources.

“The lack of funded posts puts a significant strain on doctors; the current number of staff members in most hospitals is grossly inadequate, and healthcare workers are exhausted, stressed and frustrated. This situation seems at odds with what the government is saying about the coronavirus in the province.

“SAMA notes that the government says the Eastern Cape is at war with the coronavirus. The Eastern Cape Department of Health declares that the number of infections are rising again, but does not have the funding to recruit adequate numbers of ‘foot soldiers’. In addition to recruiting, and retaining qualified doctors and nurses, there is a dire need to offer support to these critical health workers by providing psychologists and social workers to debrief them on a regular basis. Added to this is an inability among acting heads of hospitals to keep staff morale at acceptable levels.

“Officials in ongoing acting leadership positions, as well as the lack of accountability, is leading to abuse of the health system. A good example is Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth which has had multiple Acting CEOs the past three years.

“The fact that many decisions have to be made centrally at the Provincial Cost Containment Centre in Bisho also means that hospitals and their CEOs are not able to respond quickly to staffing, equipment and other needs. Urgent decisions can take months to be made at the central level, leaving hospitals without the ability to respond to their own situations.

“Urgent intervention is needed in the Eastern Cape as the situation with medical care provision has already gone beyond a critical point. Unless this intervention is made with sufficient political will to ensure a successful turnaround, the problems with healthcare in the province will undoubtedly multiply.

“To play its role, SAMA is supporting calls by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for doctors to assist at Livingstone Hospital and urges all its members to seriously consider providing their services to help deal – on a short-term basis – with the growing crisis at this hospital, and indeed throughout the province. Interested doctors can contact Danielle Piet, Project HR Manager for MSF on 082 200 4992 for more information.”


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