Chickens come home to roost in East Cape
Long before the Covid-19 global health emergency landed in our country, it was already evident that it would tear apart at the structural inequalities in our country.
We had seen how some of the wealthiest nations in the world were battling to contain the spread of the disease, and we were worried about what it would mean for a SA that already has a dysfunctional public health care system and millions of people with compromised immune systems.
Our concerns and fears were not misplaced, and the crisis in the Eastern Cape province is the evidence.
Over the past few days, health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, has come under fire for the province’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic.
A week ago, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize sent a senior director to lead the tracing, screening and testing teams in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.
This was in response to a presentation by Dr John Black, the head of the infectious diseases and HIV unit at Livingstone Hospital, who painted a bleak picture of a health department that is completely ill-prepared to deal with the virus.
According to Dr Black, the province does not have the necessary tools needed to cope with what could potentially become a calamitous health crisis.
Hospitals in the province are hopelessly understaffed and there is inadequate personal protective equipment for health workers.
We know from global experience that these two factors alone have severe ramifications for the health care system at a time of a global pandemic.
The danger of exposure for health workers is especially scary when we consider that there are already too little of them. We simply cannot afford to lose any.
One of the key arguments that was posed by the minister in his decision to send in reinforcements in the province is that there is a problem in the numbers.
Mkhize argued that the number of Covid-19 deaths in the province versus the numbers listed on the national database did not match, an indication of either underreporting or exceptionally low testing rates.
Whichever one of the two it might be, the ramifications are equally devastating.
At the heart of why we are sitting with this global health emergency is the very probable reality that China underreported its figures at the beginning of the pandemic a few months ago.
Given what we know now about the virus and how it spreads, as well as its fatality rates, it is highly unlikely that the numbers that China initially stated reflected the reality.
It is not often that I would agree with US President Donald Trump, but on one thing I certainly do agree with him: China downplayed the figures.
The implication of this was that the rest of the world failed to respond adequately and timeously, because no-one realised how significant the challenge was until it was too late.
If the underreporting in the East Cape was to continue, we were going to have a catastrophe on our hands, because we would not be able to institute critical measures and direct critical resources in areas of the province that are in most need.
And in the East Cape. these are many, for the province remains a painful symbol of the travesty that was apartheid and the tragedy that is corruption and complete institutional decay.
The under-preparedness of the health department is not too surprising.
The East Cape is in a state of complete disrepair, and it goes beyond one department.
Institutions of government have been in a state of atrophy for many years and no matter how much resources are pumped into the province, there is a leak, for they seep out and directly into the pockets of those who have no moral conscience.
For the sake of our people, who have done nothing to deserve such a dysfunctional system, I hope that Mkhize will get the situation under control. The alternative is too terrifying to even imagine.