Health Committee unhappy with KZN Health Department’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out plan
Durban - Members of the Portfolio Committee on Health ripped into the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department after they were briefed on health-care services in relation to Covid-19 and on challenges they were facing.
Most of the concerns of the portfolio committee were the department’s vaccine roll-out plan, public hospital mortuary capacity and oxygen supply.
Both KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu and head of department Dr Sandile Tshabalala addressed the committee.
Simelane-Zulu said funerals were KZN’s super-spreader events after they cancelled major events. There was also reluctance in eliminating night vigils.
She said oxygen had not run out but they were facing an oxygen supply challenge, however they were in discussions with Afrox, the oxygen supplier.
“We haven’t been able to get the amount of cylinders we ordered. Maybe we will look at other role-players in the market,” said Simelane-Zulu.
She said they were working on a plan to roll out the vaccine as soon as the national Health Department had dealt with their plan. In the meantime, they had to ensure that the infrastructure was ready and that they would start with health-care workers.
Tshabalala delivered the presentation which included issues that almost crippled the province, like the number of beds, infections and deaths among staff, how many hospitals they had repurposed as Covid-19 hospitals, personal protective equipment, emergency services, field hospitals, resurgence plan and challenges they were facing.
The department’s resurgence plan had 10 areas of action – governance and leadership; medical supplies; port and environmental health; epidemiology and response; facility readiness and case management; information systems; risk communication and community engagement; occupational health and safety; infection prevention and control; and human resources for health.
Siviwe Gwarube of the DA said she was not pleased with the level of detail given on the way the province was preparing or the vaccine roll-out.
“There are other details that we need – issues around storage, distribution, allocation of the vaccine, how are you going to make sure that even your most rural districts are getting the vaccine as soon as possible, how are you going to make sure that you are going to guard the integrity of the distribution of this process? That kind of detail is missing from the presentation,” said Gwarube.
She also said after the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, KZN was the third province that said Afrox was their sole provider of oxygen. It was the only supplier that had the capacity to deal with the demand.
“Is there any consideration to diversify your supplier base? What interventions are you having with the company?” asked Gwarube. “It would be catastrophic if they (Afrox) were to run into massive problems.”
Other questions raised were how public hospital mortuaries were coping, something that was not mentioned in the presentation, because of recent concerns.
After being pressed about the vaccine roll-out plan, Simelane-Zulu said they already had a committee that was preparing for the vaccine roll out.
“We have identified areas where we are going to be keeping the vaccine, we identified modes of transport to the rest of the province,” said Simelane-Zulu. “The majority of our planning is always towards the rural areas, because we know that is the biggest area we are serving.”
Simelane-Zulu added that on Monday, they started looking at different role-players within the oxygen market, even though some were small.
“We’ve also realised that some of the smaller ones actually buy their oxygen from Afrox,” said Simelane-Zulu.
On questions about public hospital mortuaries, Simelane-Zulu said they had not had a huge challenge in relation to unavailable shelf space.
Philip van Staden of the Freedom Front Plus questioned how Coastlands Hotel could be recommissioned as a field hospital after last year’s debacle. He described the facility as dreadful and said the FF+ and other opposition parties had to intervene to get people out of the facility and into other quarantine facilities.
Not all questions could be answered because of time. A decision was taken to provide written responses.