Johannesburg - While many South Africans may be excited to finally walk around without a mask in public, a panel of experts say the legacy of Covid-19 will remain with us for a long time.
During a webinar, hosted by Higher Education Media Services, a panel of experts which included academics and scientists explored the effects of the pandemic and its impact on the country’s HIV/AIDS programme.
South Africa’s is high on the list of countries with a high HIV-infection rate.
Despite this the national Health Department had perfected its HIV/ AIDS response with the free distribution of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
Dr Samantha Potgieter, an infectious disease expert from the University of the Free State, said the pandemic had disrupted access to treatment of chronic illnesses.
According to the government, more than 100 000 people lost their lives over the last two years to the pandemic. Internationally, six million deaths had been recorded.
“This is not only unique to HIV medicine. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected our healthcare system. There has been significant damage in what we term ‘collateral damage’. Patients were not making it to adequate levels of care,” Potgieter said.
She said hospitals also saw a shortage of doctors and nurses. Some doctors had contracted the virus while some had been scared of operating in an uncertain environment where the pandemic was still new.
“So many (healthcare workers) were either ill or quarantining. We will see the effects of all of this in the future.”
Reflecting on the last two years of the pandemic, Potgieter said she the doctors had seen many deaths but because of a decrease in infections, the death rate had gone down.
“Covid is not over. I can certainly say that we are entering a different phase of the pandemic. We know that there is a widespread immunity within our South African population.”
She added that said some people were experiencing long-term effects and lingering effects.
“It’s likely that there will be more variants with a degree of immune escape.”
Psychiatry expert, Dr Suntheren Pillay said that mental healthcare also took at knock during the pandemic. Patients with serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had struggled to access medication and treatment.
“All our chronic bipolar and chronic schizophrenics did not take their treatment adequately and got more stressed by not socialising,” Pillay said.
Pillay said while governments around the world treated Covid 19 with a very serious response, other essential aspects of humanity were neglected, such as food security.
“We neglected the services of our cities and the maintenance of our cities. We neglected everything and we can not neglect societies needs to just focus on Covid, it’s going to be here a for a long time.”
Pillay said the world was suffering from a post-Covid trauma. He said many people lost their jobs while some had to deal with death of loved ones and a complete change in normal life.
“People are dealing with the grief of loved ones. People are dealing with with the grief of mask anxiety. Then we have a whole generation of kids that spent two years behind masks.”
Just as South Africans thought they were getting a break from mask wearing, a new virus was reported to have emerged in South Africa, monkeypox. While the virus is not deadly unlike Covid-19, there were concerns that the pandemic outbreak may have invited the spreading of more infections.
The panel also discussed the manner in which media reports on scientific matters as well, as how correct messages, could be sent to the public without causing a panic.