Staff and community members thank coronavirus for renovation of hospital

Qumbu residents have welcomed the renovation of Nessie Knight Hospital. All photos by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

The Nessie Knight hospital which was meant to receive a R3-million upgrade in 2013 is being renovated seven years later due to covid-19.

Sulenkama community members in Qumbu, Eastern Cape, have for years been begging government officials to re-build or renovate the crumbling Nessie Knight hospital. The population of this town is close to one million and they all depend on this one hospital. Built in 1929 by missionaries using mud for some of the buildings, the residents said it is a disaster waiting to happen. 

Even though a tender of R3m was issued by the Eastern Cape Health Department in 2012 for the renovation of the hospital, nothing much was done. The hospital remains in its original state.

During this pandemic, the hospital has had only one bed for patients waiting for their covid-19 results. Nurses at this hospital said they work on a first come, first served basis. When the one-bedroom ward is occupied, patients are then transferred to Mthatha or to Malizo hospital in the nearby town of Tsolo. 

Another challenge this hospital is facing is a lack of bottled oxygen, seriously hampering the treatment of covid patients.

Elitsha visited the hospital last week to check renovations being done. Though some community members said it needs to be rebuilt from scratch, some said they are happy with the upgrade.

“To be honest, I thank this coronavirus! Yes we have buried our loved ones. I buried a family member due to covid-19 but if not for it, our hospital was not going to be built,” said a hospital official who preferred to remain anonymous. According to her, they have been in and out of department offices since 2015 asking for the hospital to be renovated with no luck.

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A construction company was hired to start the work but did not even finish building the foundation. “That construction company left early last year and no work was done. We were losing hope that the hospital will ever be built,” she said.

Community member, Nomaxabiso Gwayi, said she was also losing hope. “At least after this pandemic we will have a better facility,” she said, “You should thank God that you were never sick and be forced to come sleep in this hospital. I have been here twice. The most frightening part is when you see a crack on a wall and you could see the outside while inside or when it’s windy then the roof start shaking,” said Gwayi.

Another community member, Mziwoxolo Qaba, had lost so much hope he only noticed the renovations when we asked him about it. “Now that you mention it, I’m happy with the renovation but to be honest I did not notice it. We had a number of protests here complaining about this old hospital but our cry was falling on deaf ears. We thought government has forgotten about us,” he said.

The hospital is being renovated by the Eastern Cape Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.  The work was half done when we paid a visit; the construction workers said they are hoping to finish within four months.

The managers of Nessie Knight hospital have promised that the of lack of beds is being addressed.

Another old Eastern Cape hospital which has been renovated is Taylor Bequest Hospital in Matatiele. Work started a month ago and the Eastern Cape MEC for Public Works and Infrastructure, Babalo Madikizela, said he is happy with progress.

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According to Madikizela, the renovation was supposed to take 10 months but the construction company is working non-stop to finish the work within three months.

When we visited this hospital last week, patients were complaining about the lack of beds. There were patients who had recently given birth and had been sitting on chairs for hours because no beds were available.

Noluntu Ndlebe gave birth to a healthy baby boy but there was no bed for them to sleep in. “I have been sitting in a chair since yesterday and now is almost lunch time and I’m still sitting in this chair holding my baby,” said Ndlebe.

While we were interviewing Ndlebe, other mothers joined the conversation also complaining about the shortage of beds. The lack of food from the hospital was also a bitter complaint since no visitors are allowed in the hospital due to the pandemic.

Nessie Knight Hospital CEO, Nombuso Sejosengoe, said the lack of beds will soon be an issue of the past. She said a new maternity ward with 20 beds will be opened soon: “The construction company has already assured that we will use this facility within a week.”

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