Patients walk as far as 18km as KZN hospital remains under seige
Airlifted food shipments have brought some relief to barricaded Bethesda District Hospital, which has been largely cut off from patients and supply deliveries for four days forcing some patients to walk up to 18 km for medical attention.
Located about 330km east of Newcastle in Ubombo, the 230-bed hospital has been largely unable to get patients or supplies in or out of the hospital since community members from nearby Jozini began protesting water shortages on 5 November.
The hospital was in danger of running out of food Sunday until Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo reportedly authorised emergency food drops for the facility.
While roads remain blocked, protesting community members agreed to open the road for a four-hour window Sunday to allow some patients to be transferred or released. Plans have also reportedly been put in place to deal with previously reported interruptions to HIV and tuberculosis treatment for patients.
However there are reports that at least one mother was forced to walk 18 kms with her sick baby to receive help as the hospital remains cut off from vehicles, including ambulances. Local emergency medical services personnel who asked not to be named say emergency cases are being diverted to other hospitals – some hours away from local communities.
While community members say they have been told that high-level provincial officials are expected in the area Tuesday. However, as roads to the hospital remain barricaded, there are concerns that medication supplies at surrounding clinics may be in jeopardy.
According to The Mercury newspaper, protests were prompted by Umkhanyakude District Municipality’s alleged failure to provide water deliveries via tankers for two months. According to The Mercury, Mkhanyakude District Mayor Jeffrey Vilane has blamed the shortage of water on a shortage of tanks.
As of late last week, Umbombo Police said they lacked the manpower to reopen the main road to the hospital. They had appealed for local leadership to address protestors, some of whom have reportedly refused further meetings with Vilane.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication. – Health-e News.