South African Health Worker at the Frontlines of COVID-19: Struggles and Challenges
Mzikazi Nkata |AmandlaOnline | 09 April, 2020
It seems as if no one was prepared for this lockdown, health management in particular including, health caregivers who are the front line of dealing with patients coming in and out of the health facilities. All facilities from hospitals, clinics, forensics, etc. started this lockdown with no proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as N95 mask, surgical mask, A60 suits, eye protection goggles, hair covers, long sleeve gowns and more. Health workers are thrown in the deep end without even being tested and screened for other underlying illnesses, that may make them more vulnerable in the fight against COVID-19
Transporting of Staff members
Transport is not being provided to workers in this trying time and they are forced to use public transport, which potentially exposes them to the virus or spreading it if they are asymptomatic. This especially- to – those who do not have their own private transport. This is made worse by the health management’s refusal to authorise departmental cars that are already in various facilities to be utilised in fetching workers to and from work. Health workers are in a precarious situation of harbouring the covid-19 from work due to no protective clothing and proper transportation for them. Moreover, the shortage of public transport as a result of this 21 day lockdown generates a situation where employees are now faced with no work no pay policy because of late coming or not even arriving at work.
This just shows how our province’s (the Eastern Cape) health system itself was and is still not ready to curb this virus and instead the health workers are put in the position of possibly carrying the virus to communities. They are called essential workers and yet they are being sent to war without weapons by their employer. The past few weeks has been a struggle between trade unions within the department of health and the management of health. Unions fighting for the safety of workers and bringing forward proposals of how this can be done so that everyone is safe from the virus. Unfortunately, they are still struggling in putting those proposals in practise and health workers are suffering the consequences.
What can done?
The Eastern Cape public health department must provide proper PPE for all health employees. Health workers must also be provided with safe reliable transport to and from work. The treatment given to employees must be the same and equal for all employees. It is noticed that doctors are being given better treatment than their junior colleagues despite them having the same employer.
All health employees must be given free COVID19 laboratory testing. There should also be a provision of covid19 danger allowance to all health workers. As well, a special sick leave should also be given without forcing staff to take from their annual leave and sick leaves, should health workers be presented with symptoms of flu. The health department should also learn from the ordeal of this pandemic on how crucial the work of Community Health Worker (CHW) are in delivering health care services accurately and without fail to patience. Thus the department should use this as an opportunity to rope them into the department and be directly employed by the department of health and enjoy all the benefits including a dignified living wage.
Public health should also be equipping CHWs with basic education on covid19 and use their engagement skills as a tool to educate communities about the coronavirus. The struggle of communities especially those of the working class and informal settlements in particular – in not understanding how to use surgical clothing is also a crisis that can be addressed by CHW when giving community health education in these particular communities of the working class.
Mzikazi Nkata currently working for Public health as a Forensic Pathology Officer.
She is a Shop Steward at FPS under National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union. Former NUPSAW Local Secretary in Port Elizabeth and a Local Secretary for South African Federation of Trade Unions in Port Elizabeth local.