Covid-19: Ban on alcohol sees trauma unit numbers significantly lowered, say healthworkers
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While the extended lockdown meant to reduce the spread of Covid-19 has had a growing number of detractors, health-care workers in some of South Africa’s public hospitals say they have seen a reduction in the number of cases at the trauma units as a result of the ban on the sale of alcohol.
In a statement released on Friday reinforcing the ban on sale of alcohol throughout the lockdown period, the Presidency said there were proven links between the sale and consumption of alcohol and violent crime, motor vehicle accidents and other medical emergencies.
SA Medical Research Council Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit director Professor Charles Parry said South African hospitals attended to approximately 35000 trauma cases a week at about 400 secondary and tertiary hospitals.
He said since the lockdown, these hospitals had seen approximately two-thirds of their trauma cases disappear, including an estimated 9000 alcohol-related admissions.
“However, our model indicated that not all of these will return if sales of alcohol are permitted during the lockdown as there are fewer cars/pedestrians on the roads, venues like shebeens are closed (and) people are not generally drinking and swimming.
“If people obtain alcohol and bring it back into their homes, opportunities for gender-based violence and harm to children will increase.
“Some people, after a few drinks, will inevitably go out and mingle with others and get into fights over alcohol or other things, or get mugged.
“We estimate that just under 5000 alcohol-related admissions to trauma units will return (55%) and some will require operations and hospitalisation, possibly even for weeks,” said Parry.
Gauteng Health spokesperson, Kwara Kekana concurred that Chris Hani Baragwanath, one of South Africa’s largest hospitals experienced a remarkable reduction in trauma cases.
Kekana said over February and March, there were 1393 trauma cases, at an average of 279 cases per week. Since the lockdown, the numbers fell to 96 cases - 66 assault and 36 stabbing cases.
The same downward trend was also registered in other hospitals around Gauteng.
A trauma unit male nurse from Helen Joseph Hospital, who refused to be named for fear of reprisal, said on a normal weekend the staff attended to more 100 accident victims and that approximately 70% of those cases would be alcohol-related.
“We cater to a lot of informal settlements around the area and we see a lot of stab wound cases, motor vehicle accidents and pedestrian accidents.
“Domestic violence-related cases are also in high numbers and it would get very busy during the month-end,” he said.
But since the lockdown, the trauma unit had been very quiet, he said.
“My only worry is once the ban is lifted, we will have to split ourselves up and expect high numbers from mostly alcohol-related cases,” he added.
Another trauma nurse from Charlotte Maxeke Hospital said: “The total number of patients we would have on a weekend is around 170, but we are now seeing about 15 patients in a weekend”.
“Those that are calling for the lifting of the alcohol ban have no idea how much relief we are seeing.
“This kind of South Africa is one that is progressive,” she said.
In Leratong Hospital, which services Lufhereng, Snake Park, Tshepisong, Braamfischer and Kagiso, health-care workers also concurred that there was a significant decrease in the intake of patients at their trauma unit.
“Before the ban of alcohol, gunshots, stab wounds and overdose in alcohol cases were prominent,” said a nurse from the hospital.
“These cases haven’t totally been eradicated, but the decrease has helped us because we are normally overworked, with no breaks during our night shift, which starts from 7pm up to 7am.
Parry said the lockdown and the alcohol ban had freed up trauma units “in a way we had never imagined”.
“We do need to recognise that because we have such a large section of the population (+/-17% of adults) who are heavy drinkers, we should be doing more to assist those who are dependent on alcohol,” he added.