Recent oversight inspections relating to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Health’s (DoH) preparedness for any cases of Coronavirus show that while the province is on high alert and is ready to manage individual cases, there remain some areas of immediate concern in the event of a pandemic.
Of particular concern is that Greys Hospital has been declared the province’s primary Coronavirus treatment hospital. This while Addington has a specially-built isolation ward with eight beds. It is this hospital that should be at the forefront of treating any suspected patients while Greys, Ngwelezane and Manguzi Hospitals remain secondary centres of care. Logistically, Addington is also much closer to King Shaka International Airport. According to WHO reports, patients with Coronavirus are more likely to arrive into a country via air travel. It is therefore quicker to transport suspected cases to Addington than to these other hospitals.
Of further concern is the fact that none of the hospitals identified as primary treatment centres have been given a ring-fenced budget to deal with the virus. While initial steps have been taken, especially at Greys and Addington Hospitals, particularly in terms of protective personal equipment, staffing and isolation rooms, the fact remains that they will have to use their own current budgets, which are completely insufficient.
Finally, the NICD laboratory in Johannesburg is currently the only accredited testing centre in South Africa. Currently, there are delays in couriering samples to and from Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg. This must be rectified and the DA calls on the Department to urgently introduce a service level agreement with a medical courier or with the NHLS to ensure the speedy transfer of samples.
The DA strongly condemns last week’s spreading of false information around the Coronavirus. Regrettably, the incident also emphasised the definite lack of capacity among hospital PROs to manage this type of media scrutiny while also highlighting the lack of knowledge amongst ordinary KZN residents when it comes to the virus. It is clear that the DoH needs to introduce a dedicated media team to assist hospitals in informing the media and public when it comes to such serious issues.
Above all, the Department must be transparent in its dealings with the public to avoid a repeat episode of panic and fear and we call on MEC Simelane-Zulu to launch an immediate and extensive education drive within our communities. KZN can learn from Western Cape Health MEC, Nomafrench Mbambo’s own campaign which saw information leaflets distributed in high density areas.
During this viral epidemic, knowledge is power and it is the role of the Department to ensure that all residents have the power to make the right health decisions.