Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize looked like the voice of reason during the pandemic, and he works hard. But getting rid of advisers who only told him the truth is a sign of weakness, writes columnist Peter Bruce in Business Day.
Bruce, a former editor of Business Day, joins colleague Rob Rose, who in an editorial in last week's Financial Mail was similarly scathing of Mkhize's actions in dumping advisers who had been critical of the government's pandemic policies.
Bruce writes that when you donʼt like the advice youʼre getting you just change the adviser. Thatʼs what health minister Zweli Mkhize did late last month to the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), the body of experts, almost exclusively scientists and doctors, set up at the end of March to advise the cabinet on how to deal with the coronavirus.
Bruce notes that Mkhize had every right to change people around and there is serious debate abroad about the preponderance of medical advice ruling the lockdown roost in countries like Britain, at the expense of economics and sociological expertise.
Nonetheless, Bruce writes, the local MAC has more than 50 members but the three he chose to remove were also the most critical of the ultra-cautious way he has handled the pandemic in this country. “The three were Wits University's Professor Glenda Grey, celebrated HIV/Aids scientist and president of the Medical Research Council; Professor Shabir Madhi, arguably South Africaʼs best epidemiologist and a top vaccinologist; and Professor François Venter, a virologist with vast experience. They had all at some stage been publicly critical of the severity of the South African lockdown. Even Professor Salim Karim, head of the MAC, was saying six weeks into lockdown that it had served its purpose.”
Bruce points out that when one reads the likes of “solid health journalists like Katharine Child”, one has to wonder whether we have not all been well and truly conned. “Six – the number of state patients treated by Netcare,” she wrote last week, “during corona epidemic. 49.3% – hospital occupancy during the peak of the epidemic in July at all Netcare hospitals. 50% – how much surgery dropped in Netcare hospitals from April to August to prepare for COVID-19.”
Bruce writes that this tells one is just how easily even the public health service has handled this crisis. “Yes, there were some examples of filthy facilities being overrun. But, basically, we have seriously overreacted and citizens with other illnesses have suffered as a result.”
And, yes, while there probably will be a second wave, in all probability, it will not be as severe as the first and people who test positive in January are far less likely to die than if they had been infected last April.
Bruce writes that none of which is of the “slightest concern” to the ministers handling the crisis – chiefly Mkhize and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. “You can tell that by the absolutely ridiculous rules they have imposed on the tourism and air travel business since our move to lockdown level 1 last week.”Full Business Day report (Subscription)
MedicalBrief: Mkhize culls his critics in order 'to strengthen' the MACs