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Protests loom in SA's public health sector


The National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union has warned of a series of protest action next month, including a job boycott, to highlight the dangers faced by health workers in combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement, NEHAWU said fact-finding site visits to selected public healthcare facilities by its officials found generalised shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), four months after the union was told by government that there were enough in stock and it was undertaking additional procurement.

"Almost all managers did not have an idea as to how long these PPEs would last and had no plan in place to avoid stock depletion," the union said.

"In fact, in an institution like Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, our team found that workers had to resort to using refuse bags to protect themselves."

"Our team also noted that most of the problems that engulf the public healthcare facilities are as a result of the dysfunctional district healthcare system. Across all health districts nationally, there are problems of coordination, complementarity and a broken referral system.

For instance, as part of the site-visit in the Eastern Cape, our team found an unfolding disaster at the centre of which was the maternity ward at Dora Nginza Hospital.

Nehawu said the hospital is supposed to work with about 7 feeder clinics, three of which were closed, resulting in overcrowding at the hospital, which exposed the already ailing people to the danger of the COVID-19.

The union said it had since the announcement of the first infection in South Africa in early March been at the forefront in highlighting the lack of sufficient protection for its members in general and healthcare workers in particular. 

In all institutions visited by its officials, there was a general non-compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

In some places, when a worker tested positive for Covid-19, managers would refuse to carry out fumigation to disinfect the affected institution, endangering other workers and patients.

It said recent statistics from the department of health showed that as of July 23, about 13,174 health workers, the majority of them NEHAWU members, were infected with the coronavirus, with 107 having lost their lives.

- African News Agency (ANA)