JOHANNESBURG | Lack of equipment and training, exhaustion, stress: health personnel in South Africa is struggling to cope with the growing number of patients suffering from coronavirus, while the peak of the pandemic is not expected until July.
“The last time I was in service, I had eight pairs of gloves. How to work with eight pairs of gloves during a vacation of twelve hours?”, testify under the cover of anonymity, a nurse at the hospital of Livingstone in the province of the Eastern Cape, (south).
To this day, South Africa, the countries of the continent the most affected by the disease, has recorded nearly 84 000 cases of infection, of which more than 1 700 deaths, and anticipates a peak of the pandemic by a few weeks.
Three south african provinces, the Western Cape (southern), Gauteng (north) and the Eastern Cape, (south) concentrate in themselves the bulk of the patients.
“It is hard to predict whether we will be able to handle the situation,” says a physician of the city of East London in the Eastern Cape, in criticizing the lack of respirators, and training of caregivers.
“The system was already lame before, so it is difficult to prepare for a pandemic,” he adds.
At his institution, the intensive care unit has been closed for a week, after the discovery of a case of COVID-19. The staff has been tested, and the premises disinfected, but some patients have died.
“I would not say that they are dead because it has not been able to admit it, but they might be able to survive if they had been admitted to an intensive care unit,” said the practitioner.
At least five hospitals in the Eastern Cape have been closed down temporarily for decontamination after the emergence of more than 200 positive cases among the nursing staff of the province, according to the trade union Hospersa of personal health.
A measure that deplores the spokesman of health services in the Eastern Cape, Sizwe Kupelo.
“It is a global epidemic and I have not heard of another country where the medical staff demand that the hospital closed as soon as a case is detected,” growls he.
Other schools have also closed due to strikes launched to protest working conditions, lack of hygiene and the burden of work.
In a letter sent this week to the minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, a nurse who contracted the virus screamed his discomfort.
“We are working non-stop in my hospital”, written Beverley McGee, a clerk in a private clinic in Cape town. “We nurses, we are emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed by anger, anxiety, fear, stress, and disappointment.”
“Feeling of insecurity”
“Every time I try to transfer a patient in an intensive care unit in our hospital, they tell me that they are full”, complete an emergency physician at a hospital in the Cape town region (south).
“I think it’s going to be very, very hard. We have only limited means of oxygen, and have to decide who can access it terrifies me”, she says, denouncing the situation of patients with breathing difficulties forced to spend the night on chairs.
“We absolutely can not maintain patients in a meter and a half from each other,” says a nurse at the hospital Tygerberg, the second hospital in the country located in the urban area of Cape town. “It feels insecure.”
A speech that does not seem to hear the local authorities. The Western Cape is ‘ ready for the influx of cases,” says the spokesperson of the health services of the province, Nomawethu Sbukwana.
The situation gets more complicated yet. After the major cities, it is the turn of rural areas to cope with an influx of patients from the COVID-19.
“All of a sudden, everyone starts to be positive,” says a doctor from the hospital Nompumelelo, in the small town of Peddie (south). “For smaller hospitals like ours (…), the support is insufficient.”
“It’s going to be very complicated if (…) one tries to present this image of serenity, of preparation and quiet that we wanted to put forward,” it warns. “The Eastern Cape is vulnerable (…) We must not lie (…) our government needs to wake up.”