OPINION: Despondent workers won't win Covid-19 war unless state plays its part
News reports are carrying headlines that hospitals are full and some are geared to deal with only Covid-19 patients. This proves that the battle is in hospitals and our defence should be mounted from there.
However, like in any other war, soldiers must be armed to the teeth to obliterate the enemy. In this case, the government and the Department of Health have an obligation to defend and arm their soldiers.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union has been at the forefront of highlighting the scant preparedness in dealing with the outbreak. This includes us taking the department and the minister of health to court, in a bid to force them to provide sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
In order to win the fight, the government needs to urgently focus on:
* The daily rise in the number of front line workers who are contracting and succumbing to the virus. This puts the lack of sufficient PPEs back in the spotlight.
* Financial resources should be used to procure more PPEs instead of misusing much-needed funds. The minister must ensure that all workers have working tools of the trade, adequate medication, proper infrastructure, catering, reliable and affordable public transport and counselling.
* The infection of health-care workers puts more strain to our health-care facilities, considering that we have always struggled with understaffing. Loss of front line workers and closure of hospitals limits the number of beds needed to treat patients and the adequate number of workers needed for health-care facilities to function.
* Many institutions are overwhelmed because workers are testing positive. The loss of health-care workers undermines the broader efforts to combat the spread of the virus.
* Nehawu has highlighted understaffing but our pleas to fill vacant posts fall on deaf ears.
* Most front line workers are dejected by their employer's lack of appreciation for their efforts. The government saw fit not to pay salary increases and in some institutions, has been dragging its feet in paying overtime. Taxi fee hikes and strikes were met with silence by the government.
* Despondent soldiers will never win a war. Front line workers are anxious because of the rising number of their colleagues who are testing positive and losing their lives. Promises of counselling and mental health services have not materialised, leaving workers to fight alone against exhaustion, stress and anxiety.
The minister claims that by June 16, 3 583 health-care workers tested positive and 34 succumbed. We believe the number is higher, because we know many institutions hide the numbers of infected workers in order not to deplete staff numbers.
Nehawu will continue to fight for the health and safety of front line workers who are the bedrock of our national response and our first line of defence against Covid-19.
Society at large has huge role to play a role in defeating the virus. This includes obeying the lockdown regulations and holding the government accountable for its shortcomings.
December Mavuso, deputy general secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union.