POLITICS

Covid-19 II overwhelming healthcare system – NEHAWU

Union notes that funeral parlours across the country are also battling to cope with high number of burials

NEHAWU statement on government’s progress in the national effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic

11 January 2021

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the decision by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to retain the Alert Level 3 of the COVID-19 lockdown as part of government’s Risk Adjusted Strategy.

Indeed, we are in the centre of the storm as alluded by the President. This is demonstrated by the shortage of hospital beds, oxygen points, and ventilators in most healthcare institutions in the country.

The daily rate of infections has led to horrid scenes like those seen at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital where some patients were treated in tents in a roofed structure at the hospital’s Emergency Unit entrance because of the unavailability of beds. With more than 33 000 deaths since the outbreak of the virus, funeral parlours across the country are also battling to cope with the high number of burials with some running out of coffins.

The current infection rate is a cause for concern and should prompt every South African to work extra hard to flatten the curve on new infections by following all relevant health protocols and regulations. Since the beginning of the New Year the country has recorded more than 190 000 new coronavirus infections, 4 600 COVID-19 deaths while more than 148 000 people have been admitted to hospital. In this regard, we appeal to our people to avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close contact with others.

The speech of the President centred on unburdening our already overstretched healthcare system and removing the strain currently suffered by healthcare institutions. However, the speech failed to address the majority of issues facing the people who are at the forefront of fighting the virus and saving lives. As we have pointed out before these workers are still dejected by not receiving their salary increase which was due on the 1st April 2020. Instead of introducing a danger allowance or a moral incentive the government saw it fit to shower them with empty words of appreciation. The national union will intensify its fight for the payment of the salary increases of frontline workers and public servants in general, more psychosocial services, and the provision of sufficient quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including training healthcare workers on the new variant. 

Although very delayed, we welcome the intention to fill all vacant posts and hope that this will be expedited to deal with the scourge of understaffing. We hope this will also include the permanent employment of Community Healthcare Workers (CHWs) who are an integral part of our primary healthcare. Government must include trade unions in the filling of posts as we are aware of positions that are critical and requires urgent attention.

We note the assurance that PPEs stocks are being jointly monitored with the Office of Health Standards Compliance. However, in the past few weeks we have had reports of managers refusing to give workers PPEs especially at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital and at Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital. In this regard, we call for the distribution of PPEs to all hospital workers including those not working in COVID-19 wards as a means to stop transmissions in hospitals.

We note the work done to secure vaccines through COVAX, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and through engagements with individual vaccine manufacturers. The President in his speech claimed that the vaccine roll-out strategy is comprehensive, however, as NEHAWU we have not seen operation elements which include the vaccination training programme for clinicians, education programme for healthcare workers about the vaccine, logistical roll-out and vaccination sites for the aged (Transportation) and emergency reporting for Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI).

Furthermore, we call on government to urgently undertake a dedicated and precise social media campaign to dispel the fake news currently in the public discourse about vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy will undermine the effort to vaccinate the 67% of the population that is needed to reach herd immunity.

NEHAWU notes the plans to implement social and behavioural change interventions as part of the fight against gender-based violence, femicide and violence directed at children. We welcome the process of ratifying International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 which establishes a global standard for protection of women and other vulnerable groups in the world of work. We are looking forward to partaking in these initiatives as part of our own campaign to end the scourge of patriarchy and violence directed at women and children.

Once more, NEHAWU appeals to all South Africans to obey the COVID-19 regulations and protocols including the wearing of masks, maintaining social distancing and the washing of hands with alcohol based sanitisers or with water for 20 seconds.

Issued by Khaya Xaba, National Spokesperson, NEHAWU, 11 January 2021