FILE - In this March 13, 2020, file photo, a nurse at a drive-up coronavirus testing station wears a face shield and other protective gear as she waits by a tent in Seattle. President Donald Trump has hinted that he might extend a 60-day hold on green cards that he has ordered to protect American jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. At least some foreign nurses will be spared under an exemption for health care workers hired to help confront the new coronavirus, but many families will be barred from immigrating as long as the freeze lasts. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
FILE - In this March 13, 2020, file photo, a nurse at a drive-up coronavirus testing station wears a face shield and other protective gear as she waits by a tent in Seattle. President Donald Trump has hinted that he might extend a 60-day hold on green cards that he has ordered to protect American jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. At least some foreign nurses will be spared under an exemption for health care workers hired to help confront the new coronavirus, but many families will be barred from immigrating as long as the freeze lasts. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

No PPE, no work! Union tells health workers as infections rise in sector

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Apr 29, 2020

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Johannesburg - With more than 300 health workers in South Africa now infected with the coronavirus, stakeholders in the sector are calling on front line workers to not be forced to work if government can adequately provide personal protective equipment. 

A presentation by the Department of Health showed that 328 health workers had been infected with the coronavirus since March, with the majority of victims being nurses.

The reports of health professionals being infected comes as unions have called for more to be done by the government to help health workers. In the Eastern Cape, some nurses had raised concerns about the lack of protective equipment.

This comes as just under 5 000 people tested positive for Covid-19 in SA, with 93 fatalities across the country. The Western Cape has been the hardest hit province so far, with the most deaths and the most cases.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the government was working on increasing the number of PPEs being distributed across the country. He said the country had acquired PPE stock that could last for the next four to eight weeks. 

The minister acknowledged the need to distribute the equipment was becoming more important as healthcare workers have been testing positive for the virus.

He also noted the assistance of Cuban doctors who arrived in the country on Tuesday. The doctors will be distributed across the country based on the various skills needed and the number of infections.

Mkhize defended the decision to ask for assistance from Cuba, saying the doctors were not in the country to take away people’s jobs and instead were here to augment the human resources in the country. 

A breakdown of the infections across the country show there has been 195 infections in the private sector and 193 in the public sector. KwaZulu-Natal has the highest infections of healthcare professionals at 112 in the private sector and 26 in the public sector. Gauteng has the second-highest infections of health professionals with 71 in the private sector, and 25 in the public sector.

The infections vary between nurses, doctors and other affiliated health workers.

Trade union Hospersa, which represents over 60 000 health workers said it was alarmed by the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases among health workers.
 
The union reiterated that it had emphasised to its members to refuse to work where PPE was not provided in both the public and private sector.

Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines said: “These statistics reveal that health workers continue to work in unsafe working conditions where PPE is not sufficiently provided.  We continue calling on our members to refuse to work when PPE and safe working conditions are not provided by the employer.

“Hospersa is also demanding safe transport for health workers as most employees in public and private health facilities make use of public transport to reach their workplaces,” said Desfontaines.  

“When the lockdown measures are eased on 1 May 2020, many other non-screened public commuters will be sharing the same transport with health workers which will increase the risk of infection amongst these essential workers. More infections among health workers will also derail any plans for the country to successfully control this virus as currently the public health sector is under-staffed,” added Desfontaines.

“We have also called for regular screening of health workers and counselling facilities to deal with the anxiety amongst health workers created by this deadly virus.  We remain firm on our convictions to government that neglecting health workers’ demands for basic necessities like PPE puts their lives at risk and will be unnecessary casualties during this fight against COVID-19.”

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