Johannesburg - More than 24 000 health-care workers have been infected with Covid-19, while another 181 have succumbed to the virus, says Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
The minister was speaking to the media during a virtual press briefing on Wednesday morning.
This comes after South Africa confirmed 521 318 infections as of Tuesday night, as well as 8 884 deaths and 363 751 recoveries.
Mkhize said 181 healthcare workers had died in Covid-19 related illnesses, while total infections stood at 24 104.
“This means that the national infection rate of health-care workers stands at 5% of all confirmed cases. We have also kept track of the level of infection on health workers globally: on July 17, 2020, the WHO (World Heath Organization) reported that health workers accounted for 10% of global infections,” said Mkhize.
Health-care workers unions have in recent days threatened to strike owing to poor provision and insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).
There have also been reports of nurses and doctors allegedly being forced by hospital managers to conceal their Covid-19 status from colleagues.
Responding to this, Mkhize said they wanted to thank all front-line workers such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists, medical technicians, pharmacists, porters and general workers, lab technicians, environmental health practitioners, dentists and dental technicians and optometrists for their commitment and resilience.
He called on health workers to report managers who were mismanaging the fight against Covid-19 by providing poor or no PPE to workers or asking them to hide their status from colleagues.
“The Department of Health notes, with concern, increasing allegations of health-care workers contracting the coronavirus in the line of duty due to a lack or poor quality of PPE.
“We have even received reports that some may be dying after being infected due to the lack of sufficient PPE or due to sufficient PPE not being provided and/or failure or neglect by management to adhere to prescribed workplace safety protocols,” said Mkhize.
He said they had noted reports from unions which went on fact-finding missions to uncover shortages on PPE at some hospitals.
Provinces had to establish committees at hospital, district and provincial level to facilitate communication and co-operation between unions and hospital management.
“I have now obliged all provinces to ensure that these occupational health and safety committees are fully formed and functional within the week and must meet at least once a week. In these OHS meetings, staff and unions must ventilate all issues and if resolution is not satisfactory, the complaints must be escalated to the relevant MECs,” he said.
Mkhize said his office was investigating the death of a doctor at the George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Gauteng, after the doctor succumbed to a Covid-19 related illness.
“There were also allegations that this was due to a lack of sufficient supply of PPE and doctors being made to work in unsafe environments at the facility. I view these allegations in a serious light and have decided to urgently appoint a team led by Professor Taole Mokoena together with other medical, nursing and legal professionals, to conduct an urgent investigation and provide me with a report in 14 days from the commencement date,” said Mkhize.
The minister said the government was committed to the protection of health workers.
“This workforce remains at the front line of our battle against Covid-19 and it is in our interest as government to ensure that they are protected,” he said.