A PROVINCE AT BREAKING POINT

Proposed Covid-19 vaccination site in Nelson Mandela Bay still ‘under construction’ after contractor not paid

By Luvuyo Mehlwana, Estelle Ellis and Shiraaz Mohamed 6 April 2021

Wooden sheets are piled on a medical bed in a section of the uncompleted Laetitia Bam Day Hospital. A R3.5m tender was awarded to Ikhona Projects in 2019 for the upgrade of the hospital, but is yet to be completed. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Large parts of one of the proposed vaccination sites in Nelson Mandela Bay are still ‘under construction’ after the contractor left more than a year ago when the Eastern Cape Department of Health failed to pay the company.

Fifteen months after a contractor abandoned the construction project at the Laetitia Bam Day Hospital in Kariega (formerly Uitenhage) due to non-payment, patients are being treated in wooden cubicles while incomplete parts of the hospital are abandoned. Vaccines will also be administered in these wooden cubicles.

Sealed oxygen cylinders stand in a section of the uncompleted Laetitia Bam Day Hospital. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The Eastern Cape Department of Health’s spokesperson, Sizwe Kupelo, said on Tuesday (6 April) that construction at the facility would begin next week.

Patients were seen huddling together in the rain as they queued for service.

The multimillion-rand upgrade project was originally scheduled to take only a few months, but in January 2020 work was abandoned by the contractor, Ikhono Projects, because of non-payment. According to a status report from the health department in October 2020, the R5.5-million contract was awarded to Ikhono Projects in 2019 but terminated by the contractor in January 2020.

A section of the uncompleted Laetitia Bam Day Hospital.
This delay has prompted hundreds of patients to travel to Rosedale Clinic or Uitenhage Hospital. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“Contractor submitted a termination letter to the contract, citing delayed payments. The matter is being prepared for tabling by Contracts Management to the Bid Adjudication Committee; on endorsement thereof, a replacement Contractor will be procured,” the status report reads.

Units at the facility for the treatment of TB patients and the X-ray unit have remained closed since then. The delay has prompted hundreds of patients who need X-ray services to travel to Rosedale Clinic or Uitenhage Provincial Hospital. TB patients are treated in a prefabricated building outside the main clinic.

The chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign in Eastern Cape, Thembisile Nogampula, painted a grim picture of the clinic.

Boxes stand in an admin office at the uncompleted Laetitia Bam Day Hospital. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“This refurbishment was meant to improve conditions at the clinic to enhance its operations, but it has turned out to be disastrous, affecting both healthcare workers and patients. It’s hard for health workers to work under these demanding circumstances. 

“Patients are also running the risk of infecting each other with diseases, as the clinic does not have air conditions for infection control.

“This has been identified as a vaccination site. How is it going to work?

“There are no working X-ray facilities and the other five clinics that used to refer patients for X-ray purposes to Laetitia Bam have no choice but to go to the Uitenhage Provincial Hospital and Rosedale Clinic. These are poor people who struggle to get money for transport when they are referred to alternative health facilities outside of this clinic.” 

Paint drums are stored in a trolley meant to transport biohazard materials at the uncompleted Laetitia Bam Day Hospital. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Responding to EFF MP Mgcini Tshwaku in Parliament on 21 August 2020, Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize said the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape had allocated a budget to the project. 

“Four payment certificates were processed and paid to Ikhono Projects which amounted to a total of R461,520.40, with a retention of R24,290.54 still held back. Due to the contractor initiating a termination of the contract, as a result of late payments, and thereafter vacating the site, the remaining budget was reprioritised by the Eastern Cape Department of Health to fund other projects within the project portfolio. 

“This reprioritised budget would be reallocated in the following financial year [this financial year] once a new contractor has been procured or an alternative resolution… arrived upon between… [the department and Ikhono Projects].”

Nogampula said, “There was clearly no proper due diligence on the side of the department of health, despite being entrusted with people’s lives. It is unacceptable that our people cannot access decent healthcare at the facility, and those responsible must account for the state of the clinic.

“As TAC we are worried about the closure of the TB section. There is a stigma associated with TB, so we don’t want them to go to the prefabricated building because it is outside and people can easily identify TB patients. That alone drops people’s dignity because everyone knows if you are going to prefab you go there for TB-related illness. That can discourage TB patients from coming for treatment.” DM/MC

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