In a matter of ten days, the number of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in South Africa jumped from one to 62 cases.
Community care-workers, healthcare experts and activists made their feelings and fears around the coronavirus (COVID-19) known at a seminar organised by People’s Health Movement (PHM) at the School of Public Health at the University of Cape Town on Saturday. The coronavirus outbreak spread from China to over a hundred countries in less than two months. In a press conference on Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the situation a national disaster and announced measures to deal with the pandemic.
On Monday the Department of Health confirmed that there are 62 cases of COVID-19. The first case in South Africa was reported 10 days ago and according to the president, the country is dealing with internal transmission as it is no longer just those who have travelled from heavily affected countries.
At the seminar, community careworkers said that they are worried about the fact that they do not get protective gear and they attend to people with compromised immune systems. “As community careworkers we are the most vulnerable to the virus because we attend to sick people whose immune systems may be compromised. We do not get gloves or masks and we move from one patient’s house to the next,” said Ntombethemba Maduna from Khayelitsha.
Nomfundo Ndumndum, a community careworker based in Philippi, said that as much as they are vulnerable to COVID-19 at work, they are at great risk in their homes as they experience water cut-offs. “Two days ago, we had no water in my area in Philippi even though the government and the health department have advised us to wash our hands as one of the preventative measures,” she said.
Thuliswa Dyantyi, a professional nurse, said that the hospitals and the nursing staff are not ready for COVID-19. “The hospitals are concerned with cost saving and some ventilators in ICU wards do not work properly. There are also issues of shortage of staff which will impact on the response. As nurses, we have not gotten service training around coronavirus,” said Dyantyi.
Louis Reynolds, a retired pediatrician and a member of People’s Health Movement, said that the COVID-19 symptoms are similar to flu. When he called the National Institute for Communicable Disease for information on coronavirus and preventing its spread, he was advised to recommend the flu injection when it becomes available at the end of March and good hygiene practice and getting vitamin C.
The issue of social distancing was also raised in the meeting.