Medical workers biggest losers when it comes to PPE corruption: Sama
'We can simply not continue like this - something has to give'
The South African Medical Association (Sama) on Wednesday pushed to remind the government that medics bore the biggest brunt of the corruption surrounding the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The association said dubious medical tenders jeopardised medical workers’ wellbeing as well the country’s economy and reputation.
“Over the past few weeks there have been numerous reports of alleged wrongdoing and corruption. The most recent high-profile case involves the spokesperson to the president. As a professional body representing doctors, we take a strong stand against these purported abuses,” said Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of the association.
She was referring to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko, who is now on special leave amid probes that her husband’s company sought to secure a multimillion-rand tender from the Gauteng health department that was linked to the supply of PPE.
The Dikos, Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku and his wife Loyiso, who is a member of the mayoral committee in the City of Johannesburg, are all friends.
Masuku has been placed in a tight corner by the revelations, with mounting calls by ANC alliance partners in Gauteng for him to step aside from his post, in a similar manner to what Diko did from her duties as Ramaphosa's spokesperson.
But setting aside all the political murmur, the association said the reality of the situation was that medics were being hampered from doing their job. It suggested there was a lot of lip service in regards to dealing with alleged corruption but there was seldom any action.
“As doctors we are on the front line of fighting coronavirus every day, putting our own and our family’s lives at risk every time we report for work to assist the sick. When medical equipment such as personal protective equipment (PPE) is the focus of an alleged wrongdoing, we expect immediate and urgent action. Unless it is done, and seen to be done, irregularities will continue, and continue to burden an already over-stretched health sector,” said Coetzee.
The association bemoaned other scandals which have mushroomed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
These include the medical scooter debacle in the Eastern Cape, where the province's health department embarked on a failed R10m ambulance scooter project.
The project was initially to transport patients in rural areas to clinics and hospitals in a manner that would limit the spread of Covid-19. But in an embarrassing revelation, health minister Zweli Mkhize said the scooters did not meet the basic criteria for “patient transport as an ambulance”. Mkhize said the national health department was not consulted on the specifications before the procurement of the scooters.
Sama also highlighted the lack of proper equipment in other hospitals and the alleged mushrooming of companies established solely to do business with the government during this period.
“The list goes on and on. There is clearly no accountability in government nor apparently a political will to deal with corruption. If there was, we believe, the strong message would have been supported by equally strong action which we don’t see. There are many occasions where corruption is evident yet no action is taken and we are stunned by the seemingly non-interventionist approaches to these incidents,” said Coetzee.
The association said it was concerned that the already poor health care in the country was not improving.
“The billions of rands, which have allegedly been siphoned off of legitimate channels, has the effect that doctors and other healthcare workers are treating patients without the proper PPE, are having to work without proper equipment to diagnose patients, and the patients themselves have to suffer more in the often pitiful wards of dysfunctional hospitals,” said Coetzee.
“We can simply not continue like this — something has to give.”
She called on those in the medical fraternity who possessed information of corruption, fraud and other wrong doing to blow the whistle on this. She said medics should also be vocal about the difficulties they faced due to the lack of equipment.
“We have to begin taking stock in every hospital and every clinic in our country. If there are violations of procedures, and health care workers are struggling without the necessary equipment or medicines, we urge them to report these. Without this critical on-the-ground information, our situation may never improve.”