Parliament, Wednesday, 13 January 2021 – The Portfolio Committee on Health was today briefed by the Eastern and Western Cape Provincial Departments of Health on the status of healthcare services in relation to Covid-19.

The committee expressed concern over the three districts in the Eastern Cape that have reached maximum bed capacity. Although the committee did not get a straight forward answer, but it asked the Acting Head of the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Health, Dr Sibongile Zungu, whether there would be a need for the province to reopen field hospitals or refurbish some of the wards and convert them into Covid-19 wards.

With the exponential increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, the committee said it would be advisable for the provinces to improve their health facilities in preparation for the anticipated third and fourth waves. It told the Acting MEC for Health in the Eastern Cape, Mr Xolile Nqatha and Dr Zungu that the infrastructure in the province is concerning and it needs to be addressed to ensure that healthcare facilities operate optimally in the province.

The committee noted with appreciation the approval of posts in the Eastern Cape’s Department of Health for the appointment of community service officers. It said this move should alleviate the challenge of staffing shortages in the department.

It called on both the Eastern Cape and Western Cape Departments of Health to consider to employ permanently, community healthcare workers in order to provide assistance in municipal wards and to address staffing challenges that are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regarding the vaccine rollout plan, the committee told Mr Nqatha and Dr Zungu that the province did not present a detailed and comprehensive vaccine rollout plan and told them to ensure that the province has a comprehensive and detailed vaccine rollout strategy.

In welcoming the Eastern Cape update, the committee urged the province to ensure that during the first phase of the vaccine rollout, all the healthcare workers at both public and private sectors in the province are prioritised.

Briefing the committee, the Head of the Western Cape Provincial Department of Health, Dr Keith Cloete, the Head of Department told the committee that healthcare workers in the province continue to face significant physical and emotional strain. He said: “We need to provide relief for our healthcare workers and their families. It is essential to maintain a strong focus on behaviour change to ensure containment for the six months, while we gear up to provide access to vaccines.”

The committee said staffing challenges remain a challenge to all the provinces and that is largely caused by the passing away of healthcare workers as a result of Covid-19.

Updating the committee on the provincial vaccine rollout strategy, Dr Cloete told the committee that the objective of the provincial department of health about Covid-19 vaccine, is to reduce morbidity and mortality in vulnerable people, reduce community transmission through herd immunity, and to protect capability of the provincial health system. The committee welcomed the Western Cape Provincial Department of Health’s vaccine rollout strategy.


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