Covid-19: Testing

Eastern Cape battles bed shortage as Covid-19 infections surge

24 May 2020 - 00:00 By MPUMZI ZUZILE
A mitigation and containment plan shows that Eastern Cape has less than half the 2,481 isolation beds it needs.
A mitigation and containment plan shows that Eastern Cape has less than half the 2,481 isolation beds it needs.
Image: Tyler Olson/ File photo

Inadequate rural testing and a total disregard for Covid-19 regulations by communities have created a perfect storm for the surge in infections in the Eastern Cape, experts say.

Coronavirus cases in the province reached 2,459 this week, with 53 reported deaths.

A mitigation and containment plan by Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, presented to President Cyril Ramaphosa last week, showed the province has less than half the 2,481 isolation beds it needs. Only 47 ICU and high-care beds are available, compared with the envisaged 155, and just 1,315 of the planned 2,626 general hospital beds are ready.

State hospitals in two of the province's infection hot spots, Buffalo City metro and Nelson Mandela Bay metro, are desperately short of ICU and high-care beds.

According to Mabuyane's report, Nelson Mandela Bay has only four beds and needs 30 more, while Buffalo City has 14 and needs 18 more. Chris Hani district has six beds and the rest, 23, are in OR Tambo district. The districts of Sarah Baartman, Amathole, Joe Qgabi and Alfred Nzo have no ICU beds.

Responding to questions this week, Mabuyane defended health MEC Sindiswa Gomba and her department, whose handling of the pandemic has been described as "pathetic" by unions and analysts.

in numbers

• R23bn - Total of legal claims against the Eastern Cape health department in the past 20 years

• R50.5m - Budget to improve 29 health facilities

• 148 - Number of quarantine facilities

Gomba was a Buffalo City councillor for nearly 15 years before being appointed MEC. She was among the politicians, municipal officials and business people arrested in connection with a corruption scandal around Nelson Mandela's funeral in 2013.

The case was provisionally withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority last year.

Mcebisi Ndletyana, head of the political economy faculty at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, said Gomba "was never visible and the community see her as a joke". 

He accused the provincial leadership of dropping the ball by failing to co-ordinate efforts by the private and public sectors.

But Mabuyane said Gomba was leading the "good work" being done by the department of health.

"And she is working with the experienced and skilled management and dynamic health experts employed by the department."

The premier last week appointed former Eastern Cape health MEC Dr Bevan Goqwana and former health head Siva Pillay as part of a provincial advisory body. By Friday morning about 513,00 people had been tested in the province, home to an estimated 6-million people.

"The numbers you are seeing are the result of the province going out to find positive people for isolation," Mabuyane said. "Those who need hospitalisation are being treated in hospitals."

University of KwaZulu-Natal political analyst Lukhona Mnguni was also critical of Gomba, citing the way the province had dealt with a German tourist who tested positive. The rest of the 11-member group were allowed to continue their tour and were not quarantined. Mnguni said the province's problems had been exacerbated by poor management of the influx of passengers via road routes from the Western Cape.

More than 147,000 vehicles entered the province during the lockdown period. It later transpired that some taxi operators bringing passengers from the Western Cape had tested positive for Covid-19.

Mnguni cited the province's inadequate rural testing and the lack of mass rural education as a major cause for the increase in infections.

The head of the health faculty at Nelson Mandela University, professor Lungile
Pepeta, attributed the surge in infections to the slipshod way the lockdown has been observed, particularly in informal settlements and rural areas.

The Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA, which has more than 60,000 members in the public and private health sector nationally, has called for Gomba's immediate removal.

"The MEC's poor management of the spread of coronavirus is evident where critical posts remain vacant, personal protective equipment is not sufficiently supplied and health workers in various facilities across the province protest over lack of infection prevention measures almost on a weekly basis," said spokesperson Kevin Halama.

Mabuyane said R50.5m had been set aside to improve 29 health facilities and R3m was available to create quarantine facilities in the hospitality sector.

"We are investing R251m in building three new health facilities, with a 100-bed capacity each, in Joe Gqabi, Buffalo City and OR Tambo, [and] refurbishing hospitals in Amathole, Alfred Nzo, OR Tambo and Joe Gqabi," he said.

Public works provincial spokesperson Vuyokazi Mbanjwa said the province had 148 quarantine facilities, private and public, with a total of 4,909 beds.

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