Covid-19

Eastern Cape death-stats snafu sparks witch-hunt

26 July 2020 - 00:00 By MPUMZI ZUZILE
A three-member unit appointed by Oscar Mabuyane a week ago to provide technical support and advice heard that Covid-19 reporting was not being kept up to date because of staff shortages.
A three-member unit appointed by Oscar Mabuyane a week ago to provide technical support and advice heard that Covid-19 reporting was not being kept up to date because of staff shortages.
Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

An apparent jump of 400 Covid-19 deaths in a single day in the Eastern Cape this week has sparked finger-pointing as scapegoats are sought for the reporting "glitch".

The sudden rise from 945 on Tuesday to 1,345 on Wednesday came after the Nelson Mandela Bay region failed to report deaths between June 29 and July 21.

By Friday the province had recorded 71,338 Covid-19 cases and 1,406 deaths.

Dr John Black, who leads the Covid-19 team at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, put the blame on the province's health department.

"The reports after June 29 were still submitted to the district office and collated into a daily report and sent through to the provincial office," he said.

"Despite these reports being submitted, they were not included in the official statistics for an unknown reason."

He said the collection of data on Covid-19 deaths was "a normal process with a delay between the death and the official report of it. This includes removing those deaths not related to Covid-19, errors in reporting, removing deaths from patients from outside the region, and so on."

A three-member unit appointed by Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane a week ago to provide technical support and advice heard that Covid-19 reporting was not being kept up to date because of staff shortages.

The unit is led by Sibongile Zungu, a former head of the KwaZulu-Natal health department who is health minister Zweli Mkhize's clinical adviser.

"The problem started on June 29 when Eastern Cape health failed to reconcile their numbers, even though the private hospitals were sending them," said a source close to the capturing of Covid-19 data in the province.

The Sunday Times has learnt that data capturers only started collating numbers on Tuesday, when it was confirmed that Mkhize was visiting the area.

The source told the Sunday Times that during the reconciliation, the number of additional deaths reached as high as 531, but after some number-crunching it dropped to 400.

"Even health spokespeople have been instructed to tell the media it was just a reporting glitch. During the two weeks people who died of Covid-19 were not classified and families were just handed their relatives' bodies," the source said.

Siyanda Manana, spokesperson for the provincial health department, placed the blame on the department's epidemiology unit, which is responsible for collating the figures. The department has been instructed to submit a report.

"Someone neglected his job and is going to face the music. This cannot be allowed to go unpunished," Manana said.

The poor state of Nelson Mandela Bay's hospitals has come under harsh scrutiny over the past few weeks.

This week doctors told The Herald newspaper they do not have sufficient oxygen supplies, patients are tied to their beds because they do not have safety rails, and mortality rates have skyrocketed.


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