Health workers feel ill-prepared for outbreak

The number of infections in SA has passed the 1,000 mark
The number of infections in SA has passed the 1,000 mark
Image: STR/AFP

A weeping mother, just metres from Uitenhage’s Provincial Hospital, watches helplessly as her daughter’s body convulses uncontrollably.

Crying as she walks with her daughter, 15, back to the hospital where she had been just minutes before, the  woman struggles to hold the teenager up.

As a result of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the two had walked from Mandela Village to the hospital as there were no taxis available to drive them.

A Weekend Post reporter stops to help.

The reporter helps them into the car and they head back to the hospital.

The daughter began having seizures earlier on Friday morning, the woman says.

She was assessed by nurses, given tablets, and she and her mother were sent on their way only for the convulsions to begin again.

At the entrance to the hospital’s emergency area, two nurses wearing masks and gloves are seated at a desk.

They sanitise the group’s hands and ask that a register be signed before allowing a limited number of people in.

This is one of the measures the department of health has introduced since the first confirmed case of coronavirus was registered in the country.

Meanwhile, hospital workers say they do not feel sufficiently protected against the virus.

A worker from Uitenhage Provincial Hospital complained they had not been given clear direction on how to handle Covid-19 should it hit the hospital.

“There’s general anxiety by workers, especially non-clinical,” the worker, who asked not to be named, said.

“The only training we’ve received so far was from an infections nurse who was trained at Livingstone.

“I don’t feel necessarily equipped, especially non-clinical staff.

“Maybe nurses received additional training other than that presentation.

“No supervisor of mine has called me to give me more sanitiser; more de-germ handwash. I use what’s readily available.

“We’re given surgical masks and not the N95 masks which are more effective in combating the virus.”

The worker also said they had little clarity as to whether they would be able to go home once they came into contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.

On Thursday, Nelson Mandela Bay registered its first two cases of Covid-19 and on Friday, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced the first two virus-related deaths.

Another provincial worker, who also declined to be named, said the hospital had no proper measures in place to deal with the outbreak.

“The protective gear they have are masks and gloves, which they’ve given us, but we’ve also heard that the virus is not safe around the eye area.

“There’s no equipment to cover our eyes.

“There’s no PPE [personal protective equipment], which are disposable clothes we can chuck out at the end of the day so we don’t go to our homes and see our families wearing contaminated clothing.

“It feels like they’ve left us in a high-risk situation.

“We understand what our job entails — which is serving the community, and which is why we’re not abandoning it — even though we also want to be with our families.

“But we don’t feel safe.

“Provincial Hospital is not well equipped generally and certainly our equipment is not that of the standard coronavirus unit,” the worker said.

A letter that appears to have been written by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) on behalf of its Livingstone members questioned what measures were in place to ensure non-clinical employees were protected from contracting the virus.

It also questioned if transport arrangements had been made for workers without their own vehicles, and if protective clothing for cleaners, porters, food service aid and laundry workers was available.

The letter also noted that clinical staff would be getting a danger allowance and questioned why non-clinical workers were not afforded the same.

Nehawu provincial secretary Miki Jaceni said the union had registered its disappointment with the health department’s lack of readiness.

“We expected their facilities to be equipped with everything such as sanitisers, masks and protective clothing only to realise that, in most places, procurement had not been done.

“We met at 10am [yesterday]  and made the suggestion for our workers to stay at home with their families until all these things can be procured.

“The management did not accept this. The premier [Oscar Mabuyane] has intervened so we’re meeting with him as well as health MEC Sindiswa Gomba,” Jaceni said.

Gomba said her department was guided by the national guidelines for provisions of safety and protective material to front-line workers at high risk of infection.

She said those guidelines had been given to non-clinical health staff.

“We are providing a social distancing of 1,6m and conduct a regular disinfecting of surfaces six-hourly.

“The staff at high risk of infection in managing Covid-19 infection will be provided protective suits and enhanced protection that includes eye protection,” Gomba said.