KZN floods: Healthcare services take a battering

KZN floods: Healthcare services take a battering
Health impacts of climate crisis must be at the centre of COP 27. (Photo: John Steenhuisen - Twitter)

The devastating scenes from last week’s floods in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provided a stark reminder of not only how fragile life is, but also how healthcare systems rely on infrastructure and roads in times of need.

With almost 450 people having lost their lives and close to 50 000 having been displaced, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday night that the country will return to a national state of disaster to assist flood victims.

This comes after the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) declared a provincial state of disaster last week.

Nurses, patients left stranded

Damaged roads have prevented both healthcare professionals and patients from accessing facilities. According to the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), hundreds of people, in need of emergency services, are stranded. It has called on the provincial government to prioritise road maintenance to allow ambulances to gain access to health service key points.

Sibonelo Cele, DENOSA Provincial Chairperson in KZN, said most nurses are not able to report for work or go home. 

The organisation further highlighted concerns regarding patients who are on chronic medication but won’t be able to access healthcare facilities.

The mental toll 

Exposure to natural disasters such as flooding has a considerable mental health impact. Among these consequences, individuals may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.

Sthabile Ngongoma, an eThekwini resident, said the recent floods were very traumatic. 

“It was a very scary feeling. I couldn’t sleep at night, not knowing whether I’m safe or not,” she said. 

‘‘People couldn’t go to work and students were advised to stay home. There was a shortage of water due to the interruption of water pipes and there was no electricity,” she added. 

NPOs step in to help

Lwazi Mlaba, founder of the Life by Design Foundation, said there are deep psychological scars and economic hardships being experienced within communities. His organisation is currently on the ground assisting flood victims in Pietermaritzburg.

“Psychological distress is evident because of the loss of lives and properties. This is a long-term process,” said Mlaba. 

The Life By Design Foundation, in collaboration with two other organisations, have housed 57 families at a nearby church in the KwaNyavu area.

Mlaba said they are embracing themselves for additional families needing shelter with more rain predicted this weekend. The foundation is also working closely with Chief Sikhosiphi Elliot Mdluli’s tribal family by offering support to communities.   

National Health Minister, Joe Phaahla, announced that at least 23 hospitals and 34 clinics and community health centres have been damaged. However, Phaahla said that the damage wasn’t as bad as expected. He has assembled a team to do an urgent impact assessment on health services in KwaZulu-Natal.

Phaahla confirmed that at least 90% of hospitals are still operational. – Health-e News 



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