Gift of the Givers’ Imtiaz Sooliman: The Eastern Cape is in deep crisis
The province was in serious trouble following a huge outbreak of coronavirus infections in Nelson Mandela Bay and the Karoo, with the wave rapidly spreading to other parts of the province.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
On Wednesday and Thursday, accompanied by his team and truckloads of personal protective equipment (PPE), Dr Imtiaz Sooliman arrived in Nelson Mandela Bay with a blank cheque for the metro’s frontline workers, a plan and a message to the government: Just give me 24 hours.
“I said to the doctors and nurses at the frontline: Give me your list. Tell me what you need. Add coffee. Add tea. Add Milo. Add cookies. You are treasured and we see you. The Eastern Cape is in very serious trouble. The statistics are not telling the full picture. This is much worse than the first wave. Tell us what you need. I will get everything…”
Three hours later he sent them shopping. “I said everything was approved. Go and buy exactly the right things that you need.”
The list he received clearly showed the lack of support the Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals were receiving. The teams needed coveralls, disposable gowns, shoes and caps, surgical masks, N95 masks, sterile and non-sterile gloves, aprons, goggles, visors, hand sanitisers, soap, masking tape for the floor, 50 brown paper bags for masks, a hanging rack for PPE gowns, coat hangers, large buckets, drying racks, Prestik and Koki pens.
Ward outreach teams asked for oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, hats and sunscreen.
The doctors asked for 50 oxygen ports, pulse oximeters, summer blankets to donate to patients, a kettle, microwave and fridge for the Covid-19 area’s tearoom, and three couches.
Sooliman, a veteran of disaster management through his organisation Gift of the Givers, said the province was in serious trouble following a huge outbreak of coronavirus infections in Nelson Mandela Bay and the Karoo, with the wave rapidly spreading to other parts of the province.
“I have a plan for the Nelson Mandela Bay metro but it must be implemented immediately. I am thinking in the next 24 hours. This is too big to first go through a meeting and a discussion and a task team,” he said. “We all know what the government does when there is a drought and people don’t have water. They want to start building a dam. This is not the answer. If I get the green light I will need only 24 hours,” he said.
“But I also told the teams that you won’t be able to save everyone. Now is the time to be realistic and practical, and respond to the disaster itself. A proper response won’t take days or weeks. It only needs a few hours.”
“The frontline workers are scared to speak. I don’t think there is any harm in saying that this is a huge crisis. We didn’t create this. Government should ask us for support.”
Sooliman said the idea that he will be pitching to authorities is to use paramedics to work in the basement ward at Livingstone Hospital that has been designated as a Covid-19 ward.
“I often work with paramedics in the field hospitals we establish in disaster zones. They can do what Covid-19 patients need. During a disaster there is safety in numbers. People who are exhausted make mistakes.”
“If it works we can use it as a model for other hospitals,” he said. “But… I have seen in the state hospitals here that there are some who are giving their all and some who are looking for excuses not to work,” he said. “They should become serious about joining their colleagues and helping.”
He said his team recently organised for a group of bikers to drive by the hospital and hoot to show their support. “Everyone was waving and looking from the windows. It had such a positive response.
“The virus is fast spreading through the province,” he said.
“There are hundreds of cases in Graaff-Reinet, in Makhanda. In Uitenhage they won’t even tell me how many people are in the hospital but they say the hospital is full.
“The government tells us there are beds available in the metro but the rural hospitals are told to stop sending patients.”
“Over the last few weeks we have received many calls of desperation,” he said. “Hospitals need PPE,” he added. “I was trying to figure out if this was a pre-emptive request but everybody asking had one answer: ‘The virus is back again.’”
He said hospital staff explained to him that they send request after request for PPE but none is answered. That is why they were turning to him in desperation.
“I would love to know where the department’s PPE is. Orders go out but nothing arrives at the hospitals.
“We are currently helping 40 hospitals in the province with… equipment like pulse oximeters, scrubs, visors and goggles. You know this is a grave problem because you can see the relief on staff members’ faces when we arrive with PPE,” he said. “All our health workers need protection.”
His strategy was to equip hospitals in rural areas to enable them to look after most Covid-19 patients themselves.
“This way they don’t have to refer. This means the hospitals in the cities can get some relief because at the moment you are sending the patient but you can’t bring the staff too. If every rural hospital can stop sending 30 or 40 patients to the city hospitals it can make a huge difference,” he said. DM168
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