Across the country, paramedics have been falling victim to criminal attacks while on duty. As a result, an online petition calling for the government to protect paramedics has gained momentum since its launch in late August.
Levy Leburu, a paramedic who launched this petition, said that in the last decade, attacks on ambulance services and the like have grown at an alarming rate, but their safety remains a casual consideration.
‘’I wrote a letter to the Health Professional Council of SA (HPCSA) 13 years ago, asking them if we should carry a firearm, as a precaution, to protect ourselves while we are on duty. It was out of sight that we were being targeted while on duty,’’ said Leburu.
He said the answer to his request was no, even though paramedics continue to face danger in the communities they serve.
‘’Paramedics are an essential service provided in South Africa, responding to emergencies to save lives and risking theirs. We demand compulsory accompanying by armed private security or police for all paramedics. Protect our lives! End the attacks on paramedics,’’ said Leburu.
He said across the country, paramedics continue to be victims of crime, and in March, the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness (WCDHW) issued a statement this year, saying they are deeply concerned that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) teams have been targeted by violent criminals on 10 occasions.
According to the department, on March 4, an ambulance crew escaped a robbery at gunpoint as they were travelling down Francie van Zijl Drive towards Elsies River, and on March 5, a crew member was slapped in the face by a patient who refused assistance in Langa.
From January to October 2021, there had been 61 attacks on EMS officials.
In July, according to the Gauteng Health Department, two paramedics attending to what appeared to be a distress call in Nellmapius near Mamelodi after midnight fell into a trap where they were hijacked, kidnapped, and driven to a secluded shack used for a community farming project. There, they were assaulted, tied up, and robbed.
Western Cape Health Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said there are various engagements around the safety of EMS staff on a national level, and on a provincial level, the safety of paramedics is a high priority for the Western Cape Government.
‘’As a department, we are continually exploring new ways to ensure that our staff can return home safely every day. There is an EMS staff safety plan that details our initiatives, and the efforts are ongoing. These include various safety technologies being piloted. Whenever paramedics enter a Red Zone area or if they suspect that danger is looming, they are being escorted by the police. We ask members of the community to report incidents to their nearest police station without delay,’’ said van der Heever.