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E Cape Health Department records zero Covid-19 deaths i...


Coronavirus & Nelson Mandela Bay

E Cape Health Department records zero Covid-19 deaths in Nelson Mandela Bay since 2 July — but metro records 76 Covid-19 funerals

The 1,485-bed field hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

Since 2 July the number of Covid-19-related deaths in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro has remained at 136, according to the official releases from the Eastern Cape Department of Health. Not a single Covid-19 death has been reported in the metro for 19 days. The municipality has, however, recorded 76 funerals of Covid-19 patients for the same period.

According to official statistics released by the Eastern Cape Department of Health, not a single person has died of Covid-19 in the metro since 2 July – bringing the metro’s death toll down to one of the lowest in the province. The lack of reported deaths coincides with work from a task team appointed by Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize that highlighted urgent intervention was needed in the metro’s state hospitals.

The low death rate was also among statistics reported to Parliament by a team from the Eastern Cape, meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance last week.

According to the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, there have been 76 burials of patients who died of Covid-19 since 2 July.

Municipal spokesperson Mamela Ndamase said while burial permits issued by the municipality do not indicate if the person died of Covid-19, the municipality had been keeping its own statistics. 

“There have been 241 Covid-19 burials in the Metro to date (up to 16 July). She confirmed that since 2 July there had been 76 burials of patients who had died of Covid-19 related issues.

Three doctors who work at state hospitals confirmed that about five people a day are succumbing to the illness in their wards and that the deaths are clearly marked as Covid-19 related.

Despite several requests, director of communications for the Eastern Cape Department of Health, Siyanda Manana, did not provide an explanation for the discrepancy or why the department’s statistics indicate nobody has died of the disease in the metro since 2 July.

The result of the department acknowledging no new deaths since 2 July is that the metro recorded a death rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 population on 1 July — and this has remained the case while the death rate in Buffalo City, the province’s second-biggest metro, has ballooned to 19 per 100,000.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases spokesperson Sinehlanhal Jinoh said the institute published statistics as it received them from the national health department.

The seeming lack of Covid-19 deaths comes as the National Health Laboratory Services in the province confirmed that they are now producing test results for patients in hospital within 24 to 36 hours. 

Mzimasi Gcukumana from the National Health Laboratory Services said that between 1 July and 14 July they had registered 42,300 samples and produced nearly 52,000 results, including some that had been outstanding since June. 

“Currently, the turnaround time for hospital patients is 24-36 hours. The average turnaround time for all samples is five days. From 1 July to 14 July we produced 51,924 results, which is significantly higher when compared to the previous 14 days where we only provided 32,515 results for the province.

“We have not experienced a decrease in the number of samples submitted to the laboratory,” he said.

The department’s non-reporting of Covid-19 deaths in Nelson Mandela Bay coincided with an intervention from the national ministry that ended last week, with the task team specifically highlighting shortcomings in Nelson Mandela Bay’s health facilities as “very serious”. Premier Oscar Mabuyane appointed a task team to address the issues.

The support team recommended that the government urgently address problems in Nelson Mandela Bay where staff have become overwhelmed by patient demand, a lack of infrastructure, equipment and human resources to meet the clinical care demand.

The Nelson Mandela Bay business chamber also expressed its deep concern over the state of state hospitals in the metro. 

“The current inability of public hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay to effectively respond to the Covid-19 crisis is an issue of grave concern,” said Dr Andrew Muir, president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.

“This is a humanitarian crisis and requires that all the parties put their personal agendas aside to do what’s in the best interests of the people of this region.”

Muir outlined critical issues which urgently need to be addressed in hospitals, including cleaning, staff levels and the “opportunistic behaviours of various representatives to push non-Covid-19 agendas forward”.

“This is a completely unacceptable situation and could have a catastrophic effect on the people of this region,” Muir said. “Now is the time for people to come together to commit to doing everything possible to help save lives.”

The Business Chamber has created its own war room to address the pandemic in the city, but also assisted with renovating wards at Livingstone Hospital and Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital as well as the provision of PPE and assistance with storage and distribution of vital supplies to hospitals.

“From the onset, our priority has been to put humanity first and then to deal with the economic fall-out afterwards. It is therefore very disheartening that the core stakeholders in the hospital value chain are not responding adequately to their core reason for existence – caring for patients. We appeal to all these parties to immediately halt destructive actions and to turn their energies towards implementing constructive actions which will make a positive difference to the lives of others,” Muir said.

On Friday (17 July), Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane announced that a support team of experts provided by Minister of Health Dr Mkhize would help the provincial health department with strategies and the implementation of guidelines to effectively respond to the pandemic.

“The support team, which was led by Dr Sibongile Zungu, included Professor Ian Sanne, Theo Lighthelm, Albert Jansen, Dr Dorman Chimhamhiwa and Wendy Ovens. They conducted an assessment of the provincial department’s systems, administrative processes and clinical response capabilities to the coronavirus at some hospitals in the Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros and submitted a report to Premier Mabuyane with recommendations to address identified challenges.

The support team recommended that the government urgently address problems in Nelson Mandela Bay where staff have become overwhelmed by patient demand, a lack of infrastructure, equipment and human resources to meet the clinical care demand.

The support team also found that labour relations were an overwhelming issue that required a dedicated action plan. They also found that historic arrangements for drainage areas, resource allocation, and referral routing are not addressing the significant surge in patient numbers, particularly in underserved, vulnerable populations.

The team further advised urgent interventions for state ambulances and patient transport services.

Mabuyane announced that Zungu will lead the Covid-19 project management team, but also said Dr Monde Tom, a skilled, reputable and result-driven turnaround specialist would help to streamline and create a shared service of finance, human resources, supply chain, infrastructure and information systems.

“Dr Tom will design and drive an integrated organisation-wide intelligence and information system that supports the decision-making process, resource allocation, operational efficiency, effective interventions and impact of health systems to improve (the) health status of the people of the Eastern Cape province,” Mabuyane said. MC


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