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Eastern Cape premier sends an SOS to Ramaphosa: our healthcare system is overwhelmed

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane.
Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane.

Publicly admitting for the first time that the Eastern Cape health department was struggling to cope with the high number of Covid-19 confirmed cases, premier Oscar Mabuyane on Tuesday said he had asked President Cyril Ramaphosa for help.

He has requested that SA National Defence Force medical staff be deployed to the Eastern Cape to help it fight the spread of Covid-19.

Concerns have been raised that the province, which had been expected to reach its coronavirus peak around September, had peaked too early, with health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize warning citizens to brace for a storm.

In another shocking revelation, health superintendent-general Dr Thobile Mbengashe said they desperately needed 3,000 ICU beds by September.

As it stands, the provincial government would not be able to cope with the expected surge in new infections.

The Eastern Cape had 26,195 confirmed cases, 397 deaths and 12,824 recoveries at the time of writing on Tuesday afternoon.

Mabuyane admitted they were losing the fight against Covid-19, which he previously described as a moving target.

“In light of our healthcare system being overwhelmed, we have made a request to national government to deploy the medical team of the SA National Defence Force to assist us with the health intervention of our strategy,” he said.

His comment, no surprise to many, comes as the provincial healthcare system buckles under the strain of 838 health workers testing positive for the novel virus. So far 24 have died.

Nurses have held mass protests and in some cases refused to treat Covid-positive patients, saying they were not properly equipped to protect themselves against infection.

The alarming infection rate of health workers has left those still at work under severe pressure and struggling to cope with the workload.

One hospital that needs ICU beds is Cecilia Makiwane in Mdantsane which only has two, although another 12 are expected to be added.

But Mbengashe told DispatchLIVE the situation was worse in rural hospitals.

The 3,000 ICU beds needed was based on scientific evidence and not a “thumb suck”.

“When I say I am expecting a need of 3000 beds for ICU, what is happening is that we look at the data we have; we look at the models and how the epidemic is growing.”

He said out of 100 people who contract the virus, 20 were hospitalised while 5% were so sick they needed to be in ICU.

The provincial health department had 220 ICU beds before the pandemic outbreak; 300 were added after March, and the department was in the process of providing more, Mbengashe said.

He said the provincial health department already has the Dexamethasone drug in stock, which is used to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients, but was awaiting for approval to use it from the national government. 

“Dexamethasone is found  to be making a huge difference, it actually makes patients feel better. 

“We have not registered that and it is being registered by national. It is life-saving, the president has announced it and we have it in our stores. It is going to be a game changer,” he said.

Mabuyane said 2.5 million people have been screened and 157,384 tested in the Eastern Cape.

The virus has been found at 291 schools in the province, with 15 education officials succumbing to it.

Mabuyane said R2.5bn paid out in medico-legal claims had negatively affected delivery of services.

“Funds were meant for service delivery imperatives but because of these claims, they were paid to the lawyers for claimants.”

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