511 South African health workers have tested positive for COVID-19
A total of 511 South African health workers have tested positive for COVID-19, 26 have been hospitalised and a doctor and nurse have succumbed to the virus. This is according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who spoke at the Job Shimankana Tabane Provincial Hospital in Rustenburg in the North West on Wednesday, 6 May 2020. Minister Mkhize and other senior government officials were visiting the province to receive a donation of personal protective equipment (PPE) from Sibanye Stillwater and Old Mutual in Rustenburg. The contribution is important, considering the prevalence of the virus among frontline personnel, Mkhize said. "Our health workers are like soldiers who go to war. They must be well trained, well-armed and well protected. We want them to be confident that they are well trained, that they understand how they don”t get infected and how they protect others," Mkhize said. "I pay tribute to all our health workers. They have done a great job. We bow our heads and salute you. We appreciate all the work you are doing. Both public and private health workers are one." The minister said the novel coronavirus was a battle South Africans faced every day and that it "might be here for another two years".
"We have seen the numbers increasing. We said that many of us will get the infection. Our role has been to slow down the rate at which the infection gets to us. The main message is about partnership. Everyone must play a role in the fight against COVID-19. Our partners today are Sibanye Stillwater and Old Mutual," Mkhize said.
The minister thanked the companies for their contributions. "I am pleased that most areas have gone all out to open field hospitals. This contribution adds to our facilities."
Mkhize acknowledged that the pressure of having to look for food and the loss of income were factors that led people to breach lockdown regulations. "At the end of the day, everything is about people. It is only when our people are healthy that we will have a thriving economy. Improving our economy starts with the good health of our people. Good nutrition, hygiene and sanitation are at the core of our people being healthy. In terms of our scientific focus, we were able to push the peak. If we were to prolong the lockdown, it would not have delayed the peak substantially. We can now spot where the problems are coming from. We have learnt lessons from other countries and we have an advantage," Mkhize said.
Addressing the mining sector, Mkhize said: "All mineworkers must be screened. It is more helpful to be proactive. We can save staff and the whole mine if we screen miners. We encourage all mining companies to work with the provincial government on this."
Mkhize added that the department had received a call from the government of Madagascar, who asked for help with scientific research into its controversial herbal remedy it had been touting as a possible cure for COVID-19. "We will only get involved in a scientific analysis... [but] we are not at that point yet," he said.
This was a sharp increase from the figures given last week Wednesday, 29 April 2020. At that point, 328 health workers were infected with COVID-19 in South Africa, with nurses the hardest hit. At that point, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) was the most affected province, with a total of 138 health workers positive, followed by Gauteng with 96 and the Western Cape with 64. In KZN and Gauteng, most of the cases come from the private sector, whereas in the Western Cape, all 64 cases were from the public sector. South Africa has had just over 7 500 COVID-19 cases and just under 150 deaths since the first detected case in March. The first confirmed case was that of a Hilton man, who was confirmed as the country”s first laboratory confirmed case on 5 March 2020. The data from the Department of Health shows the private sector was the hardest hit, so far, with 195 infected healthcare workers, compared to 133 in the public sector at the end of April. In terms of doctors however, there were more public sector doctors who were infected compared to those in the private sector. The data showed there 25 doctors who were COVID-19 positive in the public sector, compared with 19 in the private sector for the same period.
The most cases recorded on 29 April 2020 were in the Western Cape, where 10 doctors from public hospitals tested positive, followed by the Free State and Gauteng, who had eight cases each. In the Free State, all eight positive doctors were from the private sector, whereas in Gauteng, all eight were from the public sector. Nurses were most infected, according to the department, accounting for 52 percent of all cases at the time of the report.
There were 173 nurses who were infected in the public and private sector, with private sector nurses accounting for 71 percent of the total. In the private sector, 123 nurses had contracted COVID-19, while 50 public sector nurses tested positive for the virus. KZN was the hardest hit, with 94 nurses being positive and among them, 12 being from the public sector. In Gauteng, 44 nurses were infected with the coronavirus and 38 of them came from the private sector. Gauteng was the only province with infected port health workers, with eight.
Meanwhile, the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (HOSPERSA), said it was saddened by the number of health workers who had tested positive to the coronavirus. HOSPERSA General Secretary Noel Desfontaines said the health sector was plagued with staffing shortages and said the health workers testing positive would add more strain to the industry. “We have spent the first part of the lockdown battling with the government and private health sector organisations like Netcare to tighten protective measures for health workers.”
“We have been vocal on the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and called for the employer to provide safe transport for health workers as most employees in public and private health facilities make use of public transport to reach their workplaces. We have also called for regular screening of health workers, rotation of staff and counselling facilities to deal with the anxiety amongst health workers created by this deadly virus,” said Desfontaines.
HOSPERSA has called on health workers that are over the age of 60 and those with underlying health conditions to not be forced to treat COVID-19 patients. They are also calling on health workers to be exempted from tax during the pandemic. “Such health workers should be placed in wards with less risk and still be provided with the necessary PPE,” said Desfontaines.
“The increasing number of positive cases among health workers further justifies our call for tax exemption for all categories of health workers during this fight against COVID-19,” said Desfontaines. “Health workers put their lives at risk on a daily basis, working in under-resourced and under-staffed facilities without recognition of their bravery even with the payment of a danger allowance. We demand government to prioritise the safety and recognition of the many brave women and men in the health sector that are at the forefront of this fight against this deadly virus,” he said.
Source: IOL and News 24