Coronavirus: Eastern Cape

Health Department says stigma around Covid-19 growing as community leaders excluded from official response

Eastern Cape nurses raised grave concerns over the number of patients refusing to be screened and who are lying about attending a funeral in Port Elizabeth that is regarded as a flashpoint for infections in the city. (Photo: Wikipedia)

As nurses battle to get patients to tell the truth about their whereabouts and close contacts, a senior member of a Nelson Mandela Bay district health forum says they have been excluded from the Department of Health’s Covid-19 response because an official refuses to give them permits to move around during the lockdown.

Clinic committees in Port Elizabeth’s biggest metro, which are desperate to do oversight and assist in community education, have not been issued with permits that will allow them to travel during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

The chairperson of one of the district health forums in the metro, Thembilise Nogampula, said that before the lockdown, they were having meetings about the role clinic committees have to play in assisting the health department in fighting Covid-19 infections in the province – but none of the clinic committees in his area has been issued with permits to assist with community education and oversight. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the outbreak of Covid-19 infections in South Africa as a national disaster in March 2020. He ordered that from 27 March, all South Africans, with the exception of essential workers, must stay at home. The South African Defence Force was called in to help the police in enforcing lockdown regulations. 

The latest figures released by the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize on 14 April 2020 is that there are now 174 positive cases of the virus in the Eastern Cape. 

“The decision was clear back then that we must work together. We were assured that we will receive training to educate the community,” Nogampula said. 

“The problem is that the district never called us. They didn’t even call when they issued permits. When I asked about permits to travel during lockdown, they said they were only giving permits to the nurses. 

“In other districts, clinic committees were given permits. I am stuck at home. I don’t want to leave without a permit and now I can’t go help the communities. 

“The MEC for Health, Sindiswa Gomba, said the clinic committees will go with the health workers when they are doing door-to-door testing. I followed up with her office and they are worried. Why have our permits not been issued? 

“I am worried that the district is refusing us permits because we fight with them a lot. We are a committee who fight for what we want, but they only ever call us when there is trouble with the community or the staff. I don’t think now is a good time to fight with us. We have a crisis that we must sort out. 

“We are ready to go. People are busy everywhere else, but there is nothing going on here,” he said. 


Manana said they have picked up a growing stigma attached to Covid-19 in Eastern Cape communities.


Beverley Snayers from the Nelson Mandela Bay District Health Services confirmed that no permits have been issued to clinic committees. 

“I’m still following up on a number of issues regarding clinic committees and providing them with permits. I just need to clear the bit regarding a permit for oversight and assistance and education with my principals. In my capacity, I issued permits to essential staff. At that time, the focus was on lockdown and social distancing, and encouragement of all others to remain at home. Our preparedness plan is expanding daily, needing more community engagement,” she said. 

Health spokesperson Siyanda Manana said they view clinic committees as necessary for good governance, but at this stage they are not involving them in community work. “We train as many people as possible.” 

This comes as nurses, who asked to remain anonymous, raised their grave concerns over the number of patients refusing to be screened and who are lying about attending a funeral in Port Elizabeth that is regarded as a flashpoint for infections in the city. 

Manana said they have picked up a growing stigma attached to Covid-19 in Eastern Cape communities. 

“We have launched a number of education initiatives to address this,” he said. “Our message is that the sooner people go, the better it is. We also have radio ads and flyers. The focus is that you must act for the good of everyone and be responsible by coming forward.” 

He said it was very important that people be forthcoming and honest about their movements. 

“If you do test positive for the virus, we will allow most patients to self-isolate unless it is necessary to protect other people in the house. Then we will have to take you to the hospital,” he said. 

“There is nothing to be scared of, most people will be fine after 14 days,” he said. DM/MC


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