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#CoronaVirusSA: Gauteng’s ‘low-level’ healthcare workers fear infecting their families

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Written by Thabo Molelekwa

Healthcare workers are currently at the forefront of the Covid-19 battle, as President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that they provide an essential service. But as the number of positive cases increases, vulnerable healthcare workers want to get tested too.

Healthcare workers on the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus say they are concerned about their personal safety and that of their families. This comes after the  the National Department of Health confirmed that that some healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19 — with at least six of those cases coming from Gauteng.  Doctors and nurses aren’t the only healthcare workers on the frontlines — other healthcare workers, such as clinical assistants, support and administrative staff are crucial to a hospital’s maintenance and infrastructure.

On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that 10 000 community healthcare workers will be deployed across the country to conduct door-to-door screening in vulnerable communities to ramp up testing.

Health-e News spoke to healthcare workers on the East Rand about how Covid-19 is affecting their work and home lives.

Sibongile Mahlaba*, who works at the Far East Rand Hospital in Springs says she is scared of contracting the virus and taking it home to her children.

“As low-level workers I feel we are not being taken seriously, however, we are the ones who are more exposed to contracting the virus,” says Mahlaba.

Mahlaba wants to know if, or when, the government is planning on testing them for Covid-19.

 “We are told to protect ourselves but we are not tested, and I think the government must introduce a plan to test all employees,” she tells Health-e News.

She said they are not being given enough information at the facility she works at, and that her husband had even advised her to quit because of fears that she’ll contract Covid-19 and bring it home.

“My husband advised me to quit my job because he feels they are not safe with my children at home,” Mahlaba says.

Another healthcare worker, Aphelele Majozi*, who works at the Daveyton East Clinic says she and her colleagues are

told to protect themselves, however, the clinic sometimes runs out of masks. 

“I go to work and come back worried because I don’t know whether I have contracted the virus or not,” she says.

Majozi agrees with Mahlaba, saying they need to know when they are going to be tested as healthcare workers in public facilities.

Personal protective equipment sourced and re-stocked

In addition to the concerns about access to testing, healthcare workers are also worried about the lack of proper personal protective equipment. 

National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) has confirmed in a statement that eight of their members who work in Emergency Services in uMgungundlovu are charged for refusing to work without proper protective clothing and sanitisation of their work equipment.

“The national union will defend its members and workers and ensure that they do not get dejected while doing their work,” says NEHAWU in a statement.

According to the health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, the department is working very hard to make sure the health workers are protected. 

“The issue of personal protective equipment [PPE] is something that we are working very hard on. We have noticed that there were some concerns that were raised by some of the unions, such as NEHAWU.”

“Those are our staff members who are pointing out areas which we need to address in terms of the adequacy of the protective gear but we are working together with the manufacturers,” says Mkhize adding that, they are fully aware of what is happening in private and public hospitals, as well as with manufacturers. 

“We are of the understanding now that whatever is available from the producers of the protective gear is going to be destined for South Africans to use.”

Commenting on why some public healthcare facilities on the East Rand are running out of protective gear for workers, Kwara Kekana from the provincial health department tells Health-e News that there is continuous procurement of PPE, and stock is delivered to facilities as it arrives. Kekana urges healthcare workers to use stock responsibly and appropriately.

Global shortages of PPE

At a press conference on Tuesday, Mkhize reassured both healthcare workers and the public that “field workers, frontline workers and all workers coming into contact with Covid-19 positive patients and other infectious diseases will be provided with adequate personal protective equipment and no worker will be fielded without the necessary protection.”

According to Mkhize there is a global crisis of PPE shortage, but the government has been hard at work — partnering with business and dialoguing with the global community — to secure the availability of PPE during this time of need. 

“We have heard the concerns of our healthcare workers and engaged unions on this matter. We wish to reassure our valued health professionals that their safety is on the forefront of our agenda. We cannot afford to lose one healthcare worker to Covid-19, or any disease for that matter,” Mkhize concludes. — Health-e News

 *Real names not used

 

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website

About the author

Thabo Molelekwa

Thabo Molelekwa joined OurHealth citizen journalists project in 2013 and went on to become an intern reporter in 2015. Before joining Health-e News, Thabo was a member of the Treatment Action Campaign’s Vosloorus branch. He graduated from the Tshwane University of Technology with a diploma in Computer Systems and started his career at Discovery Health as a claims assessor. In 2016 he was named an International HIV Prevention Reporting Fellow with the International Centre for Journalists and was a finalist in the Discovery Health Journalism Awards competition in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Thabo also completed a feature writing course at the University of Cape Town in 2016. In 2017 he became a News reporter , he is currently managing the Citizen Journalism programme.You can follow him on @molelekwa98