Apparent blundering of health care in the Eastern Cape caused my late aunt to be just another Covid-19 statistic
7 May 2020
Firstly allow me to thank you for your attentiveness in the matter of the illness and death of my aunt, MsNomathamsanqa Joyce Banzi (née Sisilana), and the quick referral of the matter to the Eastern Cape Health MEC SindiswaGomba, with whom I have been in contact.
I write this letter not only because of my family's personal tragedy and unbearable experience at the hands of some Eastern Cape health workers, but also because our experience concerns potentially thousands of South Africans and has an impact on the spread of the coronavirus in the Eastern Cape.
This is the story:
On 5 April 2020 my aunt developed difficulty breathing and was admitted to Grey Provincial Hospital in King Williams Town. She was however discharged on the 10th, because the staff told my cousin that they suspected that a patient had tested positive for Covid-19 and that the hospital was to temporarily close to undergo "fumigation" - which I understand to mean a deep clean.
My cousin was forced to take his mother to her home in Ginsberg Location, King William's Town.
She was then again admitted to Grey Provincial Hospital, due to breathing difficulties, on 11 April 2020, and was at that point in time diagnosed of tuberculosis. It is important to note that she was placed in an open ward i.e. not isolated as a precautionary measure.
On 2 May 2020, the family was summoned to Grey Provincial Hospital as they wanted to transfer my aunt to Bhisho Provincial Hospital. As we understand it, some of the staff at Grey Provincial Hospital refused to attend to patients who might have contracted the coronavirus, because they were not supplied with personal protective equipment. Upon arrival, the matron at Bhisho Provincial Hospital refused to admit my aunt, because the results of her Covid-19 test, taken on 30 April 2020, were not yet available.
My cousin was told to take my aunt home, even though she was breathing with oxygen in hospital and had a urinary catheter. They were informed that my aunt's oxygen was to be removed, but not the catheter.
On the same day, my family asked to see a doctor and asked him for an opinion and he told them that, according to him, he was supposed to transfer my aunt and that she was not to be taken home, but that there was no other choice as Bhisho Provincial Hospital refused her admission due to her pending Covid-19 test results.
In the end, my family was forced to take my aunt away from the primary health care she has a right to. She was so weak; she left the hospital in a wheelchair and my cousin had to carry her sickly body to her sister's home in Dimbaza, King William's Town.
However, on 3 May 2020, early in the moming my aunt severely struggled to breathe and a gracious neighbour took her to Dimbaza Clinic, from where she was referred to and admitted to S.S. Gida Hospital in Keiskammahoek where she was placed in isolation. She was left to die on her own on 5 May 2020.
Please note that from my aunt's initial hospitalisation to her latest, neither she, nor her son nor any other family member, was ever informed of even the possibility of her testing positive for Covid-19.
This possibility only came onto our radar, when she was isolated at S.S. Gida Hospital and questions were asked as to the reason for this action.
At S.S. Gida Hospital, one Doctor Jaxa, who examined my aunt, told the family that she had tested positive for Covid-19 on a test done on 20 April 2020, but that she tested negative on a test done on 30 April 2020, but that they had to treat the deceased as Covid-19 positive. Another test was taken on 3 May 2020, but we are still waiting for those results.
As a family we are sad, but we are angry too, as we were sent from pillar to post by what seems an incompetent Eastern Cape health care system, which resulted in my aunt paying with her life.
The poor level of treatment at Grey Provincial Hospital and Bhisho Provincial Hospital's refusal to treat my aunt, leaves much to be desired. They dropped the ball and it had fatal consequences.
Patient confidentiality aside, I am not convinced that the necessary interventions were made, and precautionary measures taken, at some of the medical facilities my aunt was treated at. Were all required medical protocols followed in her case, and in any other cases for that matter?
What is therefore of serious concern is that, if my aunt was indeed a victim of Covid-19, there had been ample opportunity for the illness to be passed on to many people who came into contact with her in the month that she was shoved around the Eastern Cape healthcare system — this of course includes healthcare workers.
I wish to bring to your attention, that my cousin, who had to carry his mother's sickly body more than once, is an employee at a shopping centre in King William's Town. If he possibly contracted the coronavirus from his mother, the impact of his interaction with staff members and the public is cause for serious concern. He could inadvertently be a node for the wildfire spread of Covid-19 in King William's Town. I would humbly suggest that the shopping centre's management be contacted as soon as possible so that they may test their staff for Covid-19 and rush take other precautionary measures needed.
There are several family members who regularly visited my sickly aunt at the various medical facilities and no precautionary measures were taken in the likelihood that my aunt had indeed contracted the coronavirus. They could have possibly been infected and could already, unwittingly have spread the virus.
We have been made to understand that, as a precautionary measure, my aunt might have to be buried as if she had indeed contracted Covid-19 and that this must happen within three days of her death. We had therefore planned to bury her tomorrow. We are however now confronted with a situation that the authorities are refusing to release her body to the family, until the results of the 3 May test are known. To compound this situation, I understand that there is protest action currently underway at SS Gida Hospital, which might delay the release of the test results. All these circumstances are creating havoc with our funeral arrangements and I had hoped there might be an intervention to be made to assist us?
Another impracticality is that many of my aunt's very close relatives might have contracted Covid-19 and should be in isolation. What are we to do?
Upon my telephonic enquiry into the entire matter with Health MEC Gomba, she informed me that my aunt had been informed of her positive status at Grey Hospital and that she was told to self-isolate. What I find impossible to reconcile is that my aunt was allegedly discharged and told to self-isolate, yet she was so infirm that she could not walk and was dependent on a nebuliser. How could this have been the immoral, medical advice she received? It appears to me as if the MEC has been less than candid about what exactly happened, specifically that which occurred at Grey Provincial Hospital.
For your information, I have provided my affected family members' information to Health MEC Gomba and the family is grateful that contact tracing personnel were dispatched to test them for Covid-19.
Lastly, I would be obliged if you could provide my family and I with feedback on what happened in my aunt's case, but would suggest that, to prevent further calamity, your office should conduct a broader investigation into the situation at the abovementioned institutions and that you make the report public, with clear recommendations on what the consequences and interventions are to be.
Mr NLS Kwankwa, MP
UDM Deputy President and Chief Whip
Copied to: Minister of Health, Mr Zweli Mkhize
7 May 2020