PPE unavailability to be dealt with immediately, says Mkhize

Health minister Zweli Mkhize Mkhize says the health department is determined to overcome the hurdles it is facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic
ONGOING BATTLE: Health minister Zweli Mkhize Mkhize says the health department is determined to overcome the hurdles it is facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic  
Image: GCIS

As Covid-19 infections surge in SA, health minister Zweli Mkhize says the problem of a lack of available protective gear for front-line workers has to be dealt with immediately, both to protect workers and to avert a labour dispute.

The peak of the infection has been reached only in the Western Cape, while the rest of the country has not yet experienced the worst of the pandemic.  

The surge of the virus comes as public-sector union Nehawu has threatened a strike over inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and a tender scandal over the procurement of the gear has erupted in, among other places, Gauteng, the epicentre of the pandemic in SA.  

In a webinar hosted by the department of science & technology on Friday, Mkhize said the health department was determined to overcome the hurdles it faced.  

He said bed capacity to manage the surge was an ongoing battle, “however, it is one we are determined to overcome”.

He said the track-and-tracing function, which was critical to try to break the infection cycle, had been augmented with a digital system where users could interact with the health-care system on a platform for case identification, tracking and tracing and referral to quarantine, isolation or hospitalisation.

“Strain on PPE availability due to high demand, overutilisation, sometimes poor quality, corruption, price gouging and maldistribution now requires our urgent attention and innovative stock surveillance solutions,” Mkhize said.

He said it required “immediate resolution to protect our health workers as they are the backbone of our health services and also to avert labour disputes”.

He said the department was still working on increasing human resources for health, while expediting the filling of vacancies and recruitment of new staff.

Additional ventilators and oxygen supply were pivotal and the national ventilator programme was an important development in this regard, Mkhize said.

Before Covid-19 hit, which has turned the global economy on its head, there was no local manufacturing capacity for ventilators in SA.

Trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel said in the webinar that the first batch of completed nonintrusive ventilators that was being produced in SA was coming off the assembly line on Friday.

It is the first batch of an order for 10,000 ventilators.

He said 20,000 ventilators would eventually be completed.

The completion of the ventilators was the final step in the supply chain that had brought together components made by eight different SA suppliers, he said.

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