Covid-19: Residents protest as patients with coronavirus transferred to rural hospital

MEC calls for eradication of stigma against Covid-19 patients

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Photo of crowd with police
Residents of the area protested against the arrival of Covid-19 positive patients at Untunjambili hospital. Photo: Supplied

Staff at Untunjambili Hospital in rural KwaZulu-Natal, where patients with Covid-19 have been directed, say they are not equipped to treat them.

They say they were told on Wednesday morning by management that Covid-19 patients would be quarantined at this hospital and that they should be prepared to receive patients. A few hours later, patients at the hospitals were moved to nearby hospitals and coronavirus patients were brought in.

Residents of the area responded with a protest on Wednesday night which continued on Thursday morning.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo confirmed that the hospital had been identified as a quarantine site for Covid-19 patients and other patients had been transferred to other hospitals.

“Currently, there are six patients being treated for Covid-19,” he said.

According to Naidoo, on Wednesday night, at about 7:15pm, residents of the area gathered at the hospital and began protesting, breaking two gates and threatening to set the hospital alight. Naidoo said that the local station and Public Order Police immediately responded and contained the situation. He said that again, at 3am, about 500 community members blocked the entrances at the hospital and the road demanding that all affected patients be moved from Untunjambili Hospital. “The situation is tense, police are monitoring,” Naidoo said on Thursday.

A worker, who did not want to be identified, told GroundUp staff are running short of masks and do not have gowns to protect themselves.

“What we don’t understand is why they are bringing positive cases to a rural hospital where there are hospitals that are more equipped and have resources to handle these cases,” the worker said.

The worker said they had been told that 21 more people with Covid-19 would be brought to the hospital.

Residents who spoke to GroundUp said they had found out on Wednesday that existing patients were being moved to other hospitals as the Untunjambili Hospital was preparing to receive new patients with Covid-19.

“It is not fair that people from other areas are being brought to our hospital without us knowing. We should have been told about this,” said a resident who did not want to be named.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) KZN provincial secretary Ayanda Zulu told GroundUp that staff members were called to a meeting on Wednesday at 11am to be told that the hospital would be taking Covid-19 patients.

“All previous patients were removed from the facility. There are six confirmed cases so far at the hospital and these patients are from Ballito and Tongaat,” Zulu said.

He said NEHAWU supported the community. “There are no gowns and there are limited masks at the hospital. Some workers are requested to make their own masks. There was also no training provided to deal with coronavirus cases in this hospital.”

MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said in a statement on Thursday that the unrest was uncalled-for, and “may be a symptom of a lack of understanding of Covid-19, which needs to change”.

“We are appealing to the community to calm down. This hospital is one of our less busy facilities. It has a bed utilisation rate of 39%, and an average patient length of stay of 4.6 days. Its patient headcount is 1,466, all of which is lower than the average. As part of curbing the spread of Covid-19, we as government have a responsibility to create as much capacity as possible for the quarantining, isolation and treatment of patients.”

She said ten Covid-19 positive patients had been transferred to the hospital.

“Bringing patients who are Covid-19 positive to this hospital does not pose a threat to the community if all clinical guidelines for infection prevention and control are followed by staff. After all, these are patients from Ilembe District that certain community members are saying should not be admitted. We cannot allow that.”

“We need to get used to the fact that Covid-19 is here, and it is part of our lives. As society – and not just government alone. We need to focus on demystifying the virus, and rather use our energy to create awareness on what its symptoms are, as well as what those who display them need to do.”

“We therefore appeal to our fellow compatriots to calm down, and desist from protesting because gathering in large groups is in itself illegal, as it constitutes a violation of lockdown regulations.”

Simelane-Zulu said a meeting with local community leadership was underway, with the aim of resolving the situation.

TOPICS:  Covid-19

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

As the community of iLembe, we understand the pressure that the Department of Health is going through. However, it is not fair for them to bring COVID-19 patients toUntunjambili Hospital without preparing the workers first, providing the necessary equipment and training all the workers.

We are aware of private hospitals that were closed due to patients infecting workers, worse even cleaners. This is evidence that the hospital was not trained and fully equipped to provide medical care for COVID-19 patients.

We plead with Zulu to provide the necessary equipment and provide training first before bringing the rest of the patients. Otherwise, another disaster will take place. We are certainly not ready to close another hospital with an increased number of infections and death.

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