Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

Where are the thousands of donated PPEs, ask stressed healthcare workers

Personal protective equipment donated by China is not getting to healthcare workers desperately in need of it, with reports of some being told to wear the same face masks for up to five days.

Donated personal protective equipment (PPE) may have arrived just in time, with Gauteng, the epicentre of the Covid-19 virus, seemingly hit by a massive shortage.

The situation is said to be so serious that doctors at Leratong Hospital in Kagiso have apparently been told to use a single mask for up to five days.

This alleged gambling with the lives of those on the frontline of the war on Covid-19 has raised questions about the whereabouts of at least 30,000 various pieces of PPE donated by the Bank of China to the department just this week.

The revelations by healthcare workers, including doctors, come against the backdrop of a growing number of healthcare workers contracting the virus.

At least 47 healthcare workers at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban and seven others at the Mediclinic Morningside in Sandton have contracted Covid-19.

Inside sources at the Leratong hospital painted a picture of anxiety and shock after they were informed that there were no masks in stock, with a senior manager in the casualty unit allegedly advising staff to use one mask for five days.

According to information gleaned from an internal staff communication platform, doctors appeared to flatly refuse to reuse the masks, asking where the donated PPE had gone and why the department did not rather close the hospital.

A presentation by Minister Zweli Mkhize to the health portfolio committee last week has also pointed to massive backlog of up to 65% in the delivery of the ordered PPE, including gowns, surgical masks, aprons, overalls and sanitisers.

PPE is the last line of defence against the highly contagious and deadly virus for healthcare workers, who are key in the battle against the Covid-19 devastation.

Dr Atiya Mosam, a public health medicine specialist, said healthcare workers have to come into close contact with their patients to perform certain procedures, such as CPR or intubation, which can cause the virus to be released into the immediate surroundings.

She said masks could only be used for a specified period of time – between six and eight hours – as moisture renders the masks less effective as a barrier.

“PPE is of paramount importance to protect healthcare workers because they have an increased risk due to the type of work, but also the length of time they are exposed,” she said.

Mosam warned that if healthcare workers become ill, they might not work for fear of infecting patients or other staff and that a critical resource needed to fight the virus would be lost if they become severely ill, or died.

Kwara Kekana, provincial department of health spokesperson, said their team was not aware of this matter.

“Managers in facilities have a responsibility to report as stock levels go down. We have enough stock,” she said.

Jack Bloom, Democratic Alliance (DA) member of the Provincial Legislature and spokesperson on health, said he was very concerned by reports he received from health staff without proper protective equipment at the province’s hospitals.

“I am very concerned that we don’t have an update on the PPE situation in Gauteng,” he said. “The department should not rely on donations only, but should be aggressively buying whatever PPE is available.”

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