Eastern Cape health system buckles under strain
South Africa’s Covid-19 infection rate is racing to this coming week pass the 400,000 mark, while the health system in one of its provinces — the Eastern Cape Province — has collapsed. There are reports of patients lying on dirty, bloodied floors in the Province’s urban hospitals, while churches battle to feed the poor.
“Every ward in that hospital is doomed and it’s painful because everyone is dying … the nurses are working in a hellhole … they are dying like flies,” nurse Doris Mpayipeli of Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, a large government-funded, provincial teaching hospital in the Mdantsane township of East London told the local Daily Dispatch newspaper this weekend.
Only Russia, India, Brazil and the USA have reported more Covid-19 cases, but these countries have also much bigger populations than South Africa with its 59 million inhabitants.
Earlier this week, the youngest daughter of former president Nelson Mandela, Zindzi Mandela became South Africa’s most prominent Covid-19 victim, aged 59.
A spokesperson for the Eastern Cape provincial health department Judy Ngoloyi, confirmed to The Dispatch that 165 nurses had tested positive for Covid-19 at the Makiwane hospital alone. In hospitals in the Buffalo City metropolitan area that includes East London and Mdantsane township, 271 nurses had died so far due to Covid-19 related complications.
The economic heartland of the country Gauteng, is the current Covid-19 hotspot with more than a third of the country’s infections (currently 364,328). But it has been the more rural Eastern Cape on the Indian Ocean seaboard, with its underlying pre-Covid-19 weaknesses of water, food, housing, and basic infrastructure shortages, coupled with a high unemployment rate and rampant corruption has seen its health system collapse in recent days.
The Herald (South Africa) reported on July 15, that the Dean of Health Sciences at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Lungile Pepeta said that the temporary erected Covid-19 hospital in the Eastern Province funded by Volkswagen and the German government is not adequately staffed. A fortnight ago he warned that a shortage of nurses and doctors and the failure of a coordinated response by the health services in the province, has meant the health system has collapsed.
Professor Sonwabile Mnwana of Sociology at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa wrote in the Daily Maverick this week,
“Of course, that the Eastern Cape public health is overwhelmed does not come as any surprise to the majority of citizens in the province. Almost every citizen who has encountered the system over the past five decades would concur that the system was never ready for a pandemic of any scale. In most rural healthcare centres — where these even exist at all — there have been serious staff and equipment shortages for decades.”
The Eastern Province metropolitan areas of Buffalo City (including East London) and Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) are hardest hit by Covid-19 at this stage, while some rural areas like Sterkspruit are affected in terms of water and food shortages.
Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said the situation in the Eastern Cape was “devastating.” In his St. Thomas Day service on July 4, 2020 he said:
“The loss of income and jobs for people who were already struggling has highlighted anew the poverty that has continued to plague our society since the end of apartheid and the inequality that has only got worse. The poor have erupted into our sight.”
The Anglican Church has strong ties to the Eastern Cape, the diocese of Grahamstown was established in 1853. Dean Andrew Hunter of St. Michael and St. George Cathedral in Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown said this week
“As soon as the Covid19 lockdown started in March we got requests from the broader community for help and there has been a phenomenal response to our Cathedral’s Covid Care Fund.” It enables the cathedral to distribute food vouchers and 530 food parcels every two weeks.
During the Level Five strict lockdown parishioners from the Cathedral helped pack 800 food parcels every two weeks under the umbrella of Makhanda Circle of Unity, a co-operative forum for business, civic and local government bodies. This however dwindled when people returned to work.
As infections rise by about 13,500 each day in South Africa, the strict lockdown phase has been lifted in order for people to return to work and keep the economy floating. Three million people have lost their jobs already.
The Social Development Programme for the Anglican Church in southern Africa, Hope Africa says it has run out of funds to help vulnerable communities during the COVID19 pandemic affecting thousands of people depending on the aid.
“Our biggest challenge is that we as the church don’t have enough funding to reach out to all the needs. The distances are vast and much of the area is rural. We have run out of funds to continue sending food vouchers. Churches have also been saying that there is less food available to continue feeding during the pandemic.” Canon Delene Marks, CEO of Hope Africa said on July 15, 2020.
Hope Africa also supplies water to strongly affected communities like Sterkspruit, a badly affected rural community. “Water is a problem as the government has water shortages and quite often the taps run dry,” Canon Marks said. There are reports in local newspapers this week of protests as anger grows in rural areas of the Eastern Cape at the failure of municipalities and central government to provide a regular, clean supply of water during the COVID19 pandemic.