'Pandemic taught me never to take health for granted' - Limpopo Health MEC
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Johannesburg - Limpopo has learnt valuable lessons as host and provider of a quarantine centre to 114 South Africans who were repatriated from Wuhan, China, then the epicentre of Covid-19.
Health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba speaks about her fears when they arrived, her triumphs and how the province has managed to screen more than 3 million people and kept infections low, below 50 as of Friday.
Roland Mpofu (RM): How did the command council meeting go today?
Phophi Ramathuba (PR): We received a report from all the relevant sectors on our readiness should the learners go back to school, especially Grade 12s. We discussed other areas since people will be returning to work, and economic recovery plans.
RM: What lessons did the province learn from quarantining the repatriated South Africans?
PR: At the time there was a lot of uncertainty, fear and panic from people, not just in Limpopo, but across the country. There was a lot of stigmatisation. I was scared even though I couldn’t show others.
As a sector given that responsibility, it assisted us to grow faster than other provinces in terms of understanding this virus. We had to put together a response team to get our Polokwane hospital ready in case we woke up in the morning and 100 out of the 114 started showing symptoms and needed admission. Had we not been given this opportunity to host them we would not have grown in terms of our leadership, responsibility, capacity and making sure our doctors are part of our awareness campaign programme. I learned the importance of planning under pressure, co-ordination, communicate convincingly, public speaking and provide leadership.
RM: Has the lockdown been effective?
PR: It has been very effective. The lockdown helped us keep our numbers low and there was not much defiance. Our focus was to prepare for any eventuality. We were able to increase the capacity and the number of beds in ICU and speciality in collaboration with the private sector.
RM: What challenges have you encountered and how did you tackle those?
PR: This is a pandemic and the challenge is resources, even First World countries are struggling. The problem is that as numbers increase we will need more ICU beds, which we don’t have. The human resource challenges is that we will require our own doctors, be it public or private, in a system where they will be working and dealing with patients. Another is infrastructure. We are working with the (department of) public works to start renovating some of our facilities to make sure beds are available.
Also getting people to comply is a challenge. When we tell people to be in quarantine and others to self-isolate, they don’t do it. That is why you will see at some stage we are forced to take drastic measures and force them into isolation. That way we will be able to protect others and keep numbers low.
RM: Where is Limpopo’s epicentre?
PR: Polokwane. Out of the 40 cases (as of Wedneday), 17 are from the Capricorn district while other districts share the remaining 23 cases.
RM: How many screenings/tests have been conducted? What is your target?
PR: We have screened more than 3million from 902 974 households. In each household you find an average of between five and seven people. We have tested about 3 700 mostly during screenings, but regular tests are also ongoing. Our target is to test as many people as possible.
RM: What lessons have you learned from Covid-19 as MEC?
PR: This pandemic has taught me to never take your health for granted but to empower every citizen with the knowledge that their health is their responsibility. I also have learned that health cuts can also bring us (as a country) to our knees. We cannot work in silos, we need to work together.