KZN health department wants army at hospitals, clinics as unrest continues
The KwaZulu-Natal health department is submitting a formal request to the provincial government for soldiers to guard hospitals and clinics as well as escort ambulances attending to medical emergencies.
Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane said this at a briefing on Wednesday afternoon after highlighting the harm ongoing violence had inflicted on health delivery in the province.
“We are making a formal request through the provincial cabinet to have the South African National Defence Force guard our facilities and escort our vehicles as we carry out our various duties.”
Simelane said the ongoing unrest has been “particularly bad for us in the health sector”.
“For the past three days or so, many of our staff members have been confronted by an untenable situation whereby they have been unable to come to work, or go home (for those on night shift), due to the blockading of access routes.”
She said the health facilities had seen an increase in the number of trauma patients with stab and gunshot wounds, burns and injuries from being run over by vehicles.
“In many instances, we’ve been unable to perform X-rays due to our staff’s inability to come to work, which are crucial in helping us determine the extent of injuries and the necessary course of action for patients.”
She said patients have died because they have been unable to refer them from clinics, community health centres and district hospitals to the next level of care due to the civil unrest.”
“The situation has also meant that our surgeons and other medical specialists have, in some instances, not been able to come to work and perform certain delicate medical procedures.”
Simelane said forensic pathology services have been unable to collect the remains of people who have died of unnatural causes. “They have not been able to collect bodies from clinics that do not have mortuaries, as they are unable to move around.”
Those who are stopping our healthcare workers from doing their jobs are placing the lives of their own relatives in jeopardy.KZN health MEC Nomagugu Simelane
She warned that the impending fuel shortage could prevent emergency medical vehicles from being mobile.
According to the MEC, a number of health workers have been threatened, attacked and robbed, with some facilities being vandalised.
“For instance, on Monday a group of people stormed their way into Ekuhlengeni psychiatric care centre, and took TV sets and computers. They also demanded keys to vehicles, but their attempts to steal them were unsuccessful.
“Inanda Newtown-A community health centre was attacked and robbed of various items, including TVs and computer equipment.
“Threats have also been received by staff at various hospitals and clinics, including Edendale, Osindisweni, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital and KwaDabeka community health centre.”
She said ambulances have been stoned and burnt.
“Yesterday, an ambulance transporting a maternity patient was stoned while passing through Nongoma town. It sustained a broken window on its sliding door. Thankfully, the patient and our staff members were not injured.
“Even more disturbing, yesterday a truck that was delivering food supplies to our health facilities at Amajuba district was blocked and emptied of all its supplies.
“These are all the things that we need to unite as communities and put an end to. We cannot have the safety and wellbeing of people who are already weak being placed in jeopardy by these unruly elements.”
When it came to food supplies, Simelane said facilities had “adequate food supplies for the next few days though this remains an area of concern, with the possibility of shortages as time goes by.
“We do, however, have a contingency plan. We cannot elaborate on this for security reasons. Suffice to say that we will do everything possible to ensure that our patients have enough food.”
She said only time “will reveal the impact of all of these super-spreader events that have played out in the form of the large crowds of people who have been looting.
“Our vaccination programme has continued in those areas that were not affected by the riots. In fact, as recently as yesterday, we had at least 44 vaccination centres open.
“Those who are stopping our healthcare workers from doing their jobs are placing the lives of their own relatives in jeopardy.
“There are scores of people in our hospitals who are fighting for their lives, who need to be attended to by our doctors and nurses as a matter of urgency. Some are in critical condition, in ICU, while others are in labour and need to go into theatre.
“We really cannot afford a situation where lives are lost just because our healthcare workers cannot get to work. We are therefore pleading with our communities to protect our facilities, to protect our healthcare workers, so that no-one interferes with them while they’re doing their jobs.”