File picture: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
File picture: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Cape Town nurse tests positive

By Tshego Lepule and Loyiso Sidimba Time of article published Apr 5, 2020

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Cape Town – A paediatric nurse at one of the city’s largest private hospitals has been hospitalised after she tested positive for Covid-19.

The 55-year-old was admitted to another hospital this week. The Athlone resident is believed to be a night supervisor at a paediatric unit.

“She went into the hospital presenting with symptoms and was immediately placed in isolation and a test came back positive,” said a source close to the matter.

She was infected by a close relative who had travelled to Turkey and she unknowingly continued to work until she start showing symptoms.

Management at the hospital where she is employed refused to comment, but said they had been screening everyone who entered the hospital, including medical staff.

On Friday in Durban, 11 health-care workers tested positive for Covid-19 at Netcare’s St Augustine’s Hospital, where three patients have died from the virus.

Medical staff say they are overstretched. Paramedics in one of the busiest city districts yesterday downed tools after two colleagues who came into contact with a Covid-19 patient remained on duty.

As many as 16 ambulances from the Southern District Emergency Medical Services located in Mitchells Plain refused to attend calls until the two female staff members had been sent home. The group said they had been notified that the crew had transported a patient in Mitchells Plain whose test came back positive on Friday, but they were still on duty.

Medic Bongani Mngqelana said they wanted answers from management on procedures that should be followed before they would attend to emergency calls.

“We became worried when we found out that the patient they had transported on Tuesday tested positive and they were not contacted, but rather heard it via the grapevine,” he said.

“This is a concern for us because, if you come into contact with someone who is positive, you are to immediately self-quarantine - but they still reported for duty.

“We share equipment, toilets and everything so, as the day shift, we refused to work until management addresses us or tells them to go home. Even when we disinfect the ambulances, we are given 15 minutes to just quickly wipe down surfaces within reach without doing a thorough process.”

Western Cape Health authorities met the disgruntled workers who resumed the service late yesterday, despite some workers refusing to attend to calls. They service areas such as Manenberg, Gugulethu, Hanover Park, Philippi East, Mitchells Plain and Browns Farm.

Unions are fighting for the rights of health professionals forced to buy their own personal protective equipment (PPE). This shocking revelation has been made by National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) general secretary Zola Saphetha in an affidavit filed at the Labour Court in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

“Nehawu is aware that in many of the health facilities, employees, especially doctors and nurses, supplement the inadequate government-issued PPE with PPE procured at (their) own cost,” reads Saphetha’s affidavit.

The country’s biggest public sector union has taken Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, his employment and labour counterpart Thulas Nxesi and the nine provincial health MECs to the Labour Court to urgently engage them on measures to mitigate the risk of infection to employees and measures taken to date, plans or measures to ensure that workers are provided with protective equipment where required.

Nehawu also wants the government to be directed by the Labour Court to file a report on the outcome and progress of the meaningful engagement within three days of its order and the union be allowed to reply two days later.

The union has also asked the court that its members who are required to be issued with protective gear not be compelled to work without it and not be threatened or subjected to disciplinary action and/or any other unfair treatment for their refusal to carry out functions without the appropriate protection.

Masks are considered vital for health-care workers, especially those working in highly infectious environments. Further exacerbating the medical staff problems is that some wholesalers have exploited the high demand for health-care gear, especially masks, and hiked their prices considerably.

“Many suppliers are now trying to sell directly to health-care staff and I have had numerous personal approaches,” said Rinesh Chetty, an orthopaedic surgeon based at Durban’s City Hospital, in a Facebook post.

“I have no words to describe the heartbreak and disgust that fills my heart as I prepare mentally for this invisible war.” 

Chetty is at odds with suppliers “sitting safely in their homes (during lockdown)” and demanding exorbitant prices for gear. 

He described these businesses as “the world’s new arms dealers”. 

“The world is in the grip of a pandemic, on the scales of a world war. 

“Personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed for health-care workers on the front line. You have our bulletproof vests, ammunition and armour sitting in your storage units.” 

Chetty’s call to the suppliers was: “We have 21 days to stop Covid-19 from collapsing the health-care system; we need your stocks urgently.”

Avinesh Ramlall, who runs three medical practices in Cape Town, said he was also shocked at how the price of masks had suddenly skyrocketed. 

“At the beginning of March, I purchased a box of 50, 3-ply masks for R45. When I tried to source the exact same thing this week, I’ve been quoted between R800 and R1 000. 

"Masks were being sold at a much higher price even though suppliers bought it at a cheaper rate and the lockdown made it harder for supplies to arrive from places like India and China.” 

Ramlall said the price hiking was frustrating because, if there are no masks available, which could become a reality in the coming weeks, he would be left with two options. 

“I would have to refuse patients with flu-like symptoms, which I cannot do. The other option would be to redirect them to government hospitals. But they too are experiencing the same hassles with gear.” 

He said lots of people were sold on the idea that a mask and gloves would prevent them from getting sick when they don’t need them. 

“It is only necessary for those who are infected. The World Health Organisation is yet to confirm that Covid-19 is an airborne virus,” he said.

Nehawu called on Nxesi to, within three days of the court order, exercise his powers in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which gives him the discretion to prohibit the performance of duties that endanger and/or risk the health and safety of employees. 

Besides KwaZulu-Natal, provinces including the Eastern and Western Cape and Mpumalanga also reported a lack of protective gear, according to Saphetha. 

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA threw its weight behind Nehawu’s fight. Meanwhile, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers yesterday called on the government to provide personal protective equipment to community health workers.

Weekend Argus

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