Forum to address attacks on medics

Attacks on paramedics have prompted the Western Cape legislature’s standing committee on community development to hold public meetings in the areas which have been declared no-go zones and where emergency personnel have often come under attack.

The first of these meetings was held this week in Kalksteenfontein, which borders Valhalla Park, near Cape Town International Airport.

This is the second attempt to engage with the community in this area to find solutions to address the spate of attacks.

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ENDANGERED: Paramedics say they are afraid to work in certain areas because of attacks on them.   Picture: Simone KleyPROTEST: EMS paramedics march to the Philippi Brown’s Farm sports field to hand over a protest memorandum. They have been robbed several times in Philippi and Nyanga.Picture: Phando Jikelo

The purpose of the initiative is to raise awareness about the dangers of attacking paramedics and encourage residents to prevent or report violent incidents and wrongdoing.

Various role-players including the SAPS, health department officials, community organisations and the Community Policing Forum (CPF) attended.

Areas are marked red zones when there are ongoing service delivery protests, gang fights or service staff are subjected to attacks.

Provincial Health Department spokesperson Darren Francis said paramedics only responded to calls in red zone areas when they could escorted by police. He said the objectives of this week’s meeting were achieved “although there is still some work to be done”.

Residents wanted to know what it would take to change the status of an area which had been identified as a red zone. Francis said the health department’s management would hold a meeting in the near future with the community structures to discuss various issues with the intention of taking Kalksteenfontein off the list of areas which been marked as red zones.

He said 24 people from Kalksteenfontein would be given first-aid training. “This could be a life-saving tool for the community to have a first responder in the area,” he said.

The standing committee's chairperson, Lorraine Botha, said 231 paramedics had been attacked from 2012 to 2016.

“Not only do the continued attacks affect staff on a personal level, but the ensuing violence directly affects the capacity of personnel to effec- tively respond to emergencies. We will not allow criminal acts to deny community members access to quality health care.”

EMS provincial manager Phumzile Papu told residents attending the meeting that Kalksteenfontein was one of 12 areas to be marked as a red zone.

Papu said Mitchells Plain at 85 had the highest incidents of reported attacks on paramedics, followed by Cape Town’s northern suburbs at 49, Hanover Park at 45 and Khaye- litsha at 20.

Most of these attacks happened on weekends, during the evening and early hours.

“We are attacked in areas where we are needed the most. If we withdraw our services we know the community will suffer. In this community (Kalksteenfontein) we were caught in gang crossfire. 

"We believe anybody who attacks ambulance staff is an enemy of the state. Fighting crime is a fight we should all be involved in, or all hell will break lose.

“More than 80 of our staff were sitting at home because psychologically they were not fit because of the attacks. Once we force them to go to dangerous areas they book off sick.”

Papu said there were possibilities that Kalksteenfontein could be moved from red zone to safer zone, but only after formal structures were established to prevent attacks on paramedics.

“We are losing people that are experienced and have skills to other provinces.”

Health Forum chairperson Graeme Lindhorst said various structures would be established to deal with attacks on paramedics. “We are more than happy to help, but we need to look at underlying factors that include socio-economic factors.”

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