Media statement by KZN Health MEC Ms Nomagugu Simelane, to provide and update on the impact of the ongoing civil unrest in the province

14 July 2021

Introduction and Welcome

Id like to extend my warmest greetings to Our Head of Department, Departmental officials, and And I’d like to express a special word of thanks to Members of the Media for taking the time to join us during this webinar. This is a crucial opportunity for us to bring the people of this Province and the nation up to speed, on the impact of the ongoing civil unrest on the public healthcare system. It is also a chance for us to use you as a bridge to appeal to people’s consciences, and encourage them to put an end to this most unfortunate wanton destruction that we have borne witness to, in the past few days.

Situational Analysis

Ladies and gentlemen, our Province is bleeding. We are seeing things that we never thought we could ever see in our lifetime. The situation has been particularly bad for us in the health sector, where we simply cannot afford any disruption to our normal order of life, as we deal with matters of life and death every single second and minute of the day. The blockading of provincial and local routes has had a severe chain reaction, with potentially dire consequences for our fellow compatriots. It has had a direct bearing on the prospects of recovery for those who are sick or injured; and for those who need to go into life-saving medical procedures.

Impact of road blockages on day-to-day operation

  • 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.
  • This has resulted in only skeletal staff being able to work at our health facilities.
  • Many of those on night shift have had to find a way to sleep at our facilities, and continue working when their shift starts.
  • At the same time, our healthcare facilities have been receiving an increased number of trauma patients… I’m referring here to people with stabbings, gunshot wounds, burns, and those run over by motor vehicles, to mention but a few.
  • 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.
  • We have been unable to refer to refer patients from clinics, Community Health Centres, and district hospitals to the next level of care due to the civil unrest, which has resulted in some people losing their lives because we could not transfer them.
  • 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.
  • As the Department of Health, we have suffered delays with the collection of mortal remains, as Forensic Pathology Services battle to reach scenes where people have passed away due to un-natural causes.
  • They have also not been able to collect bodies from clinics that do not have mortuaries, due to the fact that they are unable to move around.
  • We are also concerned about the impending shortage of fuel, which could mean that our EMS and FPS vehicles are not mobile.

Attacks on staff and healthcare facilities

We have also noted a number of disturbing incidents, whereby our staff have been threatened, attacked and robbed, with healthcare 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 also attacked and robbed of various items, including TVs, and computer equipment.
  • Tongaat Community Health Centre has also been closed due to riots in its locality.
  • Direct threats have also been received by staff at various hospitals and clinics including Edendale, Osindisweni, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital, and KwaDabeka Community Health Centre.
  • The majority of clinics that are run by eThekwini Municipality have had to be closed due to the unrest.
  • Our Emergency Medical Services have also been adversely affected. One of our ambulances was burnt on Sunday night, while another had rocks thrown at it in Marriannhill. 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 disturbingly, 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 well-being of people who are already weak, being placed in jeopardy by these unruly elements.

Food supplies

Our facilities currently have adequate food supplies for the next few days; although this remains an area of concern, with the possibility of shortages as time goes. We do, however, have a contingency plan. We cannot elaborate on this, due to security reasons; suffice to say that we will do everything possible to ensure that our patients have enough food.

Pharmaceutical Services

We have not suffered any pharmaceutical supply shortages at this stage, and we are monitoring the situation in that regard very closely. We are acutely aware of how vital these supplies are to our patients, who must not, under any circumstances, default on their medication. It is on that basis that we are calling on our communities to be vigilant assist that the supply of medication is not blocked.

Beware the threat of COVID-19 which has not abated, despite the chaos

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to remember that all of what we are seeing is occurring against the background of the ever-lingering threat of the COVID – 19 pandemic, which remains as deadly as it has always been – if not more. 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 rate of new infections has remained a major cause for concern in KwaZulu-Natal.
  • As of yesterday, the number of new COVID – 19 infections stood at 873, which brought the total number of confirmed cases to 372 406.
  • Our Province currently has 21 771 active COVID – 19 cases, and has now recorded a total of 10 912 deaths. The number or recoveries stands at 338 859.
  • The province currently has 1 670 patients admitted in both the public and private healthcare facilities. Public hospitals account for 723 or 43% of the patients; while our counterparts in the private sector have 947 or 57% of the patients receiving treatment for COVID - 19.
  • There are currently 33 COVID – 19 patients in ICU in public health facilities, while the private sector accounts for 207 patients. Eight patients are on ventilators in public hospitals, while 73 are on ventilators, in the private sector.

Infection rate over the past few days

A brief analysis of how the rate of new infections has been unfolding since this past weekend has revealed that:

  • On Tuesday, the number of new infections stood at 1 026; while on Monday the day before, we had 1 520 new infections.
  • On Sunday, we had 1 841 new infections; and 1 694 the day before, which was Saturday, 10 July 2021.
  • We are also mindful of the fact that the lower infection rate may be affected by our limitations when it comes to data collection, due to the fact that many of our staff could not make it to work during the past few days.

Vaccination Programme

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. We have been following stipulated standard operating procedures to ensure that these vaccine doses are kept at the appropriate temperatures.

Contingency plan and way forward

As part of our contingency plan, we are working flat-out behind the scenes, monitoring developments and assessing the situation several times a day, in order to ensure continuity. Among other interventions, we are:

  • Working very closely with a number of key structures and entities, such as the SAPS (ProvJOINT), SA Military Health Service, Road Traffic Inspectorate.
  • We are in the process of making a formal request through the provincial Cabinet to have the South African National Defence Force avail their services for guarding our facilities, and escorting of our vehicles, as we carry out our various duties. This will be subject to a security risk assessment.
  • We, however, cannot elaborate in this regard due to the sensitive security nature of these operations.
  • We have also begun a process of engaging with hospital boards, who are community-based, to help us reach out to the public and get them to protect our staff and our health facilities.
  • We will also be urging our healthcare workers who cannot travel to their normal work posts, to present themselves at their local facilities, in order to bolster capacity there.

Conclusion/MEC's impassioned plea to the public

Ladies and gentlemen, we simply cannot go on like we have over the past few days. As a Department, we are concerned that if nothing changes, we may start losing many lives unnecessarily.

The people who have caused all this destruction have names and faces. They live somewhere, and are known to somebody. Regardless of the circumstances, surely, they have hearts and minds that should have known not to do what they did – but also, they should know when to stop. That time has now come. As Government does its best to deal with this situation, we are pleading with each and every individual to create a situation where healthcare workers are not impeded from getting to work. 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. We are also pleading with our media, particularly those in broadcasting, to exercise their social responsibility by including in their programming messages that plead with the protesters to cease from what they are doing. The time has now come for all of us to do everything possible to return our society back to normalcy as soon as possible.

 Lastly, we wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to all staff members who have held it down, risking life and limb by coming to work, despite such difficult circumstances. We also thank those who have borne the inconvenience of not being able to go home. We are heavily indebted to all of you. Your actions are exemplary, and nothing short of heroic.

Siyabonga. Thank you.

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