Tuesday, 30 November, 2021
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WHO joins Health Department investigation into Eastern Cape’s high COVID-19 death rate

Experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), accompanied by a team from the national Health Department, has started the probe into the Eastern Capes’s sky-high COVID mortality rate, writes Estelle Ellis in Daily Maverick.

Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth said they were very concerned about the escalating deaths, particularly in rural districts like Chris Hani (including towns like Cradock, Middelburg and Komani), Joe Gqabi (seated in Aliwal North) and Sarah Baartman (including large parts of the Karoo).

The team was “conducting an analysis of the high mortality rate to determine contributing factors and make recommendations on reversing this trend”.

The latest epidemiological report shows that 44% of patients admitted for COVID-19 died in hospital in the Joe Gqabi District, which has the highest case fatality rate in the province, followed by the Amathole District, including large parts of the former Transkei (37.6%), the Chris Hani District (34.7%) and the OR Tambo District (around) with 34.5%.

A health department investigation found that most patients arrived too late for treatment and clinicians could no longer help them. Daily Maverick notes that no other details of this probe have been made public by the department, despite several requests.

The province recorded 178 deaths per 100,000 people. The Buffalo City metro reported the highest rate (298.3 per 100,000) followed by Nelson Mandela Bay (290.5 per 100,000).

Meth said the province had recorded a 13% increase in cases from the last week of July, with a number of outbreaks in schools. At the last count there were 89 schools with pupils who had contracted COVID-19 in the past seven days, she said.

“We must commend the departments of health and education for the swift response in managing the school cases. They mobilised resources to identify the index cases, locate their contacts, screen and test them, and activate the isolation and quarantine services where appropriate. In this regard, the department primarily uses its own facilities to isolate. We will continue to monitor our capacity in hotspot areas that have been reported.

“The department of health has increased interventions on surveillance, screening and testing, and also the capacity to isolate and quarantine those at high risk. The education department has enhanced its prevention measures and infection control.”

According to the latest statistics from the Eastern Cape health department, 4,886 new cases were reported in the first week of August.

Meth said that between Tuesday and Wednesday last week, the province added 743 new infections, bringing the number of active cases to 7,370.

“A large percentage of these cases come from the Nelson Mandela metro, Sarah Baartman and the Buffalo City metro. Nelson Mandela metro and Sarah Baartman have been showing signs of decline in cases, though we are starting to see a spike in cases, especially in the Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality (seated in Graaff-Reinet) and [parts] of the Nelson Mandela metro.”

The number of deaths due to COVID-19 had declined slightly from 191 to 156 in the current week, and hospital admissions in the province had dropped by about 6.6%.

“About 30% of the current admissions are on oxygen, with 15.2% on ventilators. Most are in the public sector. We have a stable supply of oxygen in all our districts and are monitoring stock levels daily in partnership with Afrox,” Meth said.

COVID-19 hospitalisations among vaccinated health workers had been consistently far lower than in the previous waves of the pandemic. Of the 163 health workers who contracted COVID, only seven were admitted and were discharged after full recovery.

The MEC said 1.173 million people have now registered on the Electronic Vaccination Data System.

A total of 217,826 vaccines had been administered thus far for the age group 35 to 49 years, and there was an increase in the number of registrations for 50 years and above – 246,123 (47.6%) against the target of 517,545 population segment.

She added that they were also making progress in getting those 60 and older vaccinated.

According to Daily Maverick, the Eastern Cape was vaccinating about 25,000 people daily, from a high of 30,000 a few weeks ago. The decrease is attributed to the constraints with vaccine supply during the week ending 31 July 2021. There have been no deaths linked to the vaccination programme.

Meth said mass vaccination sites in the two metros – Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City – will be funded by the Solidarity Fund, and operational from the end of August.

“These sites are expected to administer 5,000 vaccinations a day. A proposal has been submitted to the Solidarity Fund through the Office of the Premier to fund another mass vaccination site at OR Tambo (around Mthatha).”


Daily Maverick article – World Health Organisation to investigate high Covid-19 death rate in Eastern Cape


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


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


Eastern Cape reports worrying coronavirus infection outbreaks in some small towns


DA: Eastern Cape's COVID-19 data remains unreliable


Eastern Cape hospitals crisis: 'Patients fight one another for oxygen'



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