[imagesource: Daily Maverick]
The current state of South Africa’s healthcare system is the result of years of neglect, but never before have our hospitals been put under so much strain.
Weeks back, the wheels were already coming off, especially in the Eastern Cape, although our private hospitals, and many in the Western Cape, are also buckling.
After what the BBC calls a weeks-long investigation into our country’s hospitals, an incredibly grim picture is painted, exposing “an extraordinary array of systemic failures showing how exhausted doctors and nurses are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and a health service near collapse”.
Not to start Wednesday off on too grim a note, but there are also reports of unborn babies dying in over-crowded and understaffed maternity wards.
You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not overly enthusiastic about the prospect of our government’s National Health Insurance scheme.
Back to the BBC, which starts off with the focus on the Eastern Cape:
“There’s a huge amount of fear, and of mental and emotional fatigue. We were working with a skeleton staff even before Covid-19 and now we’re down another 30%,” said Dr John Black.
“Services are starting to crumble under the strain. Covid has opened up all the chronic cracks in the system. It’s creating a lot of conflict,” he said, confirming reports that patients had been “fighting for oxygen” supplies in a ward at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth.
Livingstone Hospital has been described as “like a war situation”, with rats feeding on bloodstained hospital waste as it pours down drains.
At Dora Nginza Hospital, traumatised staff, stretched beyond breaking point, had to deal with multiple deaths in the maternity ward, and they were “convinced the deaths were almost certainly the result of severe understaffing”.
The shortage of staff, along with strikes from unions representing the likes of laundry workers, cleaning staff, and some nurses, after members tested positive for COVID-19, has further exacerbated the problem.
Union officials have vigorously defended their members’ actions.
“It’s not true at all that we’re exploiting the situation,” said Khaya Sodidi, provincial secretary of the nurses’ union, the Democratic Nurses Organisation of South Africa.
“Our nurses are overwhelmed, having to clean floors or cook because kitchen staff are not working. We cannot risk the lives or nurses. They’re human beings.”
That’s a fair point – why should nurses, and others, risk their lives because of the government’s incompetence? Of course, they want to help, and many put their own safety second every day when they attend to patients, but it’s a sacrifice they shouldn’t be forced to make.
It will shock nobody that the secretary-general of the Eastern Cape’s Health Department, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, is happily passing the buck with regards to the province’s hospital mess:
[He] acknowledged “a number of very critical structural issues that are really affecting our response”, and said staff were “anxious, fearful… and overwhelmed.”
But he cited historic issues of underfunding dating back to white-minority rule, and insisted that his department was rising to the challenge of Covid-19.
“It’s very true that some of our teams are very stretched and actually stressed. But the health system in the Eastern Cape has not collapsed. We’ve really been building up [for the pandemic] and I think we are still on track and need to be given an opportunity to show we can do this,” he said.
Don’t even get me started on the ambulance scooter disaster, which in any country would be a national scandal.
The BBC highlights many other issues, and you can read the report here.
Closer to home, the Daily Maverick took a look at when the Western Cape’s infections will peak, with data shifting slightly in recent times:
Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde, in a recent digital press conference, told members of the media that the province’s peak was likely to be “flatter, later and longer” than previously thought.
According to new projections from the National Covid-19 Epi-Model (NCEM), the province’s peak will likely occur from the end of July to the beginning of August, said Winde.
“This peak is also flatter than was originally projected. This means that we will not have as many hospitalisations and deaths at the peak as we originally thought.” However, this flatter trajectory could last longer, meaning that the first peak could only end in late November.
The province looks to have enough beds, but not the right kind, and is an estimated 550 critical care beds short of the expected needs.
For those in Gauteng, the peak has not yet arrived:
Current modelling projects that Gauteng will only see the epidemic peak in September.
Gauteng health spokesperson, Kwara Kekana, said the province’s priority was to save lives and provide dignified services to those in need. “Gauteng is continuously setting up necessary infrastructure and increasing our human resource personnel in preparation for the peak,” said Kekana.
That report then details how prepared the province is to handle the upcoming peak, which is thankfully better prepared than the Eastern Cape, but with tough times still ahead.
Read that in full here.
At some point today, take a moment to consider how terrifying it must be to battle this pandemic on the front lines.
If that doesn’t encourage responsible behaviour, we are clearly not a very empathetic society.
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