Covid-19 tests found dumped on N2 roadside

The test kits contained samples from people who had been tested for the virus.
The test kits contained samples from people who had been tested for the virus.

The dumping of 80 “live” Covid-19 test kits  outside East London on Monday morning  is as good a representation as any of the troubles the Eastern Cape health system is facing as the pandemic tightens its grip on the province.

The test kits contained samples from people who had been tested for the virus, with some labelled for Grey Provincial Hospital in King William’s Town.

The kits were discovered by a jogger running on the periphery of the N2 highway between East London and King William’s Town.

Blame for the discarded kits was shifted among the provincial health department, National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and the courier company responsible for transporting the medical samples on Monday.

Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo confirmed the test kits were from the department's hospitals, but said there was no wrongdoing on the department's part.

The matter was being investigated by the department, but  the NHLS ultimately would have answer, he said.

“It is a matter between a courier company and National Health Laboratory Services. As the department we are working with them to establish the facts as to what really happened.

“This looks like it happened while the items were in transit outside our facilities.”

Eastern Cape NHLS area manager Tabita Makula did not know how the test kits were dumped, but said the courier company, which she would not name at this stage, had been instructed to  submit a report on Tuesday.

“We don't know what happened, we are still investigating. We didn't know that there were samples that didn't reach the lab until we saw the photos [circulated in the media] on Monday morning,” said Makula.

“Our samples are transported to the labs by an outsourced courier company. There's a company that is responsible for transporting samples for the Buffalo City Metro and Amathole areas. We don't know what happened because it looks like those samples came from the Bhisho labs where we keep the samples from  Grey Hospital before they reach East London.

“I have asked the courier company to give me an incident report on Tuesday so I will wait for them. They also didn't know there were samples that were lost,” said Makula.  

One of the samples found lying on the side of the highway belonged to Phiwe Mehlo, the ANC branch secretary in East London. This is also health  MEC  Sindiswa Gomba's ANC branch.  

Mehlo posted on his Facebook page about the discovery.

When Mehlo was contacted by DispatchLIVE on Monday, he said the matter was being handled by his attorney.

“I can't comment because this matter is now with my lawyers, and they will advise me on further steps to take,” said Mehlo.

The latest incident comes as the provincial health crisis escalates.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, screening protocols are falling through the cracks at Livingstone Hospital, common areas are not being regularly sanitised and staff are not wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE) properly, increasing the risk of Covid-19 spreading through the hospital and into the community.

These warnings, contained in an internal audit report commissioned by the Eastern Cape health department, coincide with a sudden spike in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths in Nelson Mandela Bay.

In other parts of the province, nurses and doctors are staying away in large numbers, often leaving patients to fend for themselves or rely on hospital management teams to treat them.

DA shadow minister of health Siviwe Gwarube said in the past few weeks he had seen a systemic collapse of the provincial health system “which has placed thousands of lives in mortal danger”.

That prompted the DA to write to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, calling for the provincial department to be placed under administration according to Section 100 of the constitution.

“The pace of intervention in this province is causing more senseless loss of lives,” said Gwarube.

He said they would now escalate this matter to deputy president David Mabuza and make the case for urgent intervention in the province.

“Issues such as chronic staff shortages, dangerous lack of oxygen supply, and insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) are only some of the key matters.”

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