On Wednesday evening, Nthabeleng Makhalema, 39, gave birth to her premature daughter at Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein. Pelonomi is badly affected by the Nehawu strike, with the facility having to move some patients to nearby hospitals. A midwife, disguised as a parent to avoid intimidation from Nehawu members who are striking, helped deliver the baby.
The next day, Makhalema watched in shock as nurses were forcibly removed from the NICU ward. “I was told my baby needs to be kept for observation. In the early hours of the following day we were left alone after many workers entered the rooms and forcefully removed the nurses from
work. I saw my child lose her life,” she says. It was only a day later that the grieving mother received her baby’s corpse.
“There were no officials to help us and the one who returned my baby came from the strike.” Makhalema claims there were 23 corpses waiting to be collected.
The Free State Department of Health spokesperson Mondli Mvambi told Health-e there are difficulties in obtaining the number of strike related fatalities. “We are unable to tell or report on those who passed on during this time and we are working hard to ensure that there are workers in each departments so that services are rendered”, he says.
Volunteers lending a helping hand
The Free State Department of Health has called on the public to help with some services like cooking for and feeding patients.
“We need to be patriotic. Our humanity should be shown to exist. I sent a request to the Bloemfontein community to assist with washing and feeding of our sick patients, and the response was so humbling,” he says.
Medical and nursing students from the University of Free State have provided a needed boost, after stepping in to fill the worker void. But more healthcare workers are needed, especially midwives. “We had medical and nursing students volunteering at Pelonomi and other badly affected hospitals and we need more hands so that we don’t find the system collapsing. We have called a few of those who were temporarily employed during the pandemic to come and volunteer, especially midwives to help with the delivery of babies,” says Montseng Tsiu, the FS Health MEC.
She says striking workers who assaulted staff will face internal disciplinary processes. “We have advised all the workers who were assaulted to file cases with Human Resources and SAPS. While the law enforcement deals with the criminal case we will deal with a labour related case.”
Although the strike has lost momentum, Nehawu has vowed to continue with until their demand for a 10% salary increase is met.-Health-e News