GOTG founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman is in Cape Town, and immediately got to work with a donation and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS) on Thursday. Picture: Supplied
GOTG founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman is in Cape Town, and immediately got to work with a donation and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS) on Thursday. Picture: Supplied

Gift of the Givers' Dr Imtiaz Sooliman reflects on Covid-19 pandemic

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Mar 5, 2021

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Cape Town - Today marks a year since humanitarian and disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers (GOTG) stepped in to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

GOTG shared that it’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in no way impeded on its national disaster relief efforts or international support to struggling nations, but strengthened it, according to founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.

This comes as the country commemorates reaching the sombre milestone of one year since the first case of Covid-19 was detected.

Arriving in Cape Town on Wednesday, Dr Sooliman reflected in the city where GOTG pandemic response had begun and is now meeting with donors, corporates, medical researchers, hospital staff, and Cape Town team. A major part of the visit was to strengthen the already existing systems in place for the third wave.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, GOTG has provided a robust and proactive response covering medical needs and support, food relief, and water provision among others.

On Thursday, GOTG donated and distributed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service.

Dr Sooliman said: “I’ve come for several reasons. I’m here to meet the role players that I met with last year, and of course (today), we will be visiting the hospitals that we’ve been to before and even hospitals that we haven't been to and also get staff ready for the third wave.”

The day following President Cyril Ramaphosa's address declaring a National State of Disaster, GOTG immediately established testing and triage sites.

“We started setting up centres for testing to assist the country because we knew that was going to be a major need. We set up ten testing sites and we had three mobile teams to move nationally.

“On the second day, we were already procuring PPEs, on the third day we said hospitals are going to need triage tents. We set up 37 tents at a cost of R3 million per month and we ran that from March until the end of October. We delivered PPEs to 210 hospitals nationwide.”

GOTG refurbished a wing at the Mitchells Plain Hospital at a cost of R10 million taking just a month to complete; a two-ward Covid-19 facility at Settlers Hospital in Makhanda taking five days to complete at a cost of R750 000; and added a doctors quarters at Bhisho Hospital at R3 million taking a month to complete.

GOTG supports 25 medical staff for Livingstone Hospital and Nelson Mandela Bay Hospitals.

“In addition to that, we rolled out 320 000 food parcels, we’ve supplied millions of litres of water per week, we drilled more boreholes, supported 100 soup kitchens and that's besides the fire (relief) and everything else that we did and internationally we supported poorer countries, delivered 101 containers of aid to Somalia and Yemen,” said Dr Sooliman.

“All our international projects never collapsed, in fact, it got stronger. All the local projects just grew in terms of Covid-19 response. None of our projects suffer; we even put toilets in schools. The fodder for hungry animals continued. We got involved in much more than we normally do. More and more companies and the public came to support us.”

Dr Sooliman said that they didn't know how serious the Covid-19 pandemic would be when it first arrived.

“The first wave wasn't so bad, relatively, compared to what happened in the second wave. The second wave took the biggest amount of lives, the destruction was horrendous and besides Covid-19 itself, in terms of lives affected, what it did to the economy was horrendous, absolute carnage, the amount of jobs shed, companies closed down... the mental health of HCW - the support they required.

“HCW have never been so traumatised in their life and so scared.”

He added that the common phrase among healthcare workers during the second wave was that patients reached them too late. He strongly advised that every household should have a pulse oximeter.

“The life-saving instrument now, every house should get a pulse oximeter, because if you have any doubt, just check your oxygen and if levels are low, rush straight to the hospital, that’s the thing that is going to save lives.”

Dr Sooliman who founded GOTG in 1995, said that he remains hands-on in every project despite working from home mostly.

“I don't go to the offices, I just haven't done it for a long time because I am on the move all the time. I look at projects, I set up projects, I'm on the field, that's my job. All my staff have to report to me, all the managers, and what we’re delivering and at what time.

“I check all the things that have to be paid for. Every invoice comes to me, to check and I'm on the mobile while moving. And I have a very good idea what all our teams are doing everywhere. It's full-on communication, every single day, with all the key people of my staff. I get feedback all the time, if a truck broke down, I will know. And I need to know why.”

Project manager for ten years, Ali Sablay said, there was something spiritual about the work done by GOTG.

“Even with the water, the areas where we found water, people laughed at us, saying ‘these people are mad, they are going to drill here and never find water’, but then we find the best boreholes. In Graaff Reinet, we’re planting vegetables in a drought and the vegetables are coming out because they’re all getting water from our boreholes and people are saying why are you wasting money on this soil,” he said.

“It's amazing how God always sends you to the right place at the right time. There’s so many things that I can tell you about this journey, especially during Covid-19, the miracles that happened.”

Cape Argus

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