File picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).
File picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Coronavirus: KZN hospitals facing mask shortages

By Thobeka Ngema Time of article published Mar 26, 2020

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Durban - Numerous hospitals in KwaZulu- Natal are facing a shortage of N95 masks, which the provincial Department of Health has said is a worldwide problem.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) in the province noted this shortage as one of its concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A nurse at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH), who did not want to be named, said recently they had been facing a shortage of N95 masks and there had not been enough for health care professionals at the hospital.

“Masks will no longer be used and discarded, you now have to use and keep,” she said.

She thought the entire hospital was affected because they were supplied by the same stores, and did not know how staff would be able to carry out their duties if the hospital would be accepting coronavirus-positive patients.

Union provincial secretary Mandla Shabangu said they had visited facilities and found serious concerns ranging from lack of water to the shortage of equipment in clinics, community health care centres and hospitals.

Shabangu said there was no clear guideline by the department on how patients with the coronavirus should be channelled.

He said nurses were prone to getting the virus, therefore health professionals must refuse to risk their lives in nursing coronavirus-positive patients without protective equipment.

“Denosa KZN has informed its members to ensure that they are provided with safety gear like gloves, masks and other protective equipment. We have learnt that some hospitals are intimidating our members to nurse patients without protective devices,” said Shabangu.

He said there was a shortage of masks in almost all hospitals in KZN.

Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane- Zulu said there was a worldwide shortage of N95 masks because manufacturing stopped in January.

“However, there are alternatives and some of our staff have been given alternative masks and no one has been told to re-use masks. We must never re-use our masks,” said Simelane-Zulu.

“Staff at IALCH in particular have been uncomfortable with the alternative mask they’ve been given, the department is discussing the matter.”

She said that earlier this month the department had issued a new order, because they realised they would have a challenge with the masks. They had started ordering their protective gear in early February, late March and some of it had been delivered.

The MEC said they had ordered more masks so as not to run out.

Explaining the process for a patient to be admitted, Simelane-Zulu said the patient would have to go to their doctor or nearest clinic. They were able to assess a patient based on symptoms and medical history. They would refer them to a hospital if the patient needed testing, and the patient would be informed to go home and self-quarantine for 48 hours while awaiting the test results, she said.

“If you are positive, you are taken into an isolation ward where you will be treated. However, if you are unable to self-quarantine, the department arranges for you to be put into a ward.”

Daily News

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