Parliament, Thursday, 14 January 2021 – The Portfolio Committee on Health has expressed its concern over the challenge of the insufficiency of oxygen for Covid-19 patients in hospitals in the KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces.

The committee heard about the insufficiency of oxygen in hospitals in those two provinces when it was briefed today by the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Limpopo Provincial Departments of Health on the status of healthcare services in relation to Covid-19.

KZN’s MEC for Health, Ms Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, said the second wave has had a serious impact in the province. She said funerals have become Covid-19 super spreaders, as people are not adhering to the health protocols of washing hands with soap or sanitising, social distance and wearing of a mask.

On the challenge of insufficient supply of oxygen at hospitals, Ms Zulu said Afrox, the company that currently supplies all the provinces with oxygen has been struggling to keep up with the demand. She said the province has decided to look for other suppliers of oxygen to ensure that the demand for oxygen is met in the province.

The committee said one oxygen supplier cannot have enough capacity to cope with the demand that increases everyday, and it urged the province to ensure that there is enough supply of oxygen in the province. On the province’s vaccine rollout strategy, the committee told Ms Simelane-Zulu that it was not entirely satisfied with the details of the strategy.

To alleviate the pressure of work from the shoulders of healthcare workers, the committee advised KZN’s department of health to consider the employment of community healthcare workers on a permanent basis. It said healthcare workers are over-stretched in all the provinces and one of the immediate ways to deal with that is to employ the community healthcare workers where they are available.

Briefing the committee, Limpopo’s MEC for Health, Dr Phophi Ramathuba said the effects of the second wave in the province are five times higher than they prevailed in the first wave. She said that additional resources such as human resources, personal protective equipment (PPE), oxygen and infrastructure are required amid restricted financial resources.

On hospital beds, the committee heard that bed occupancy is already under pressure in all Limpopo’s hospitals. The provincial department of health has assured the committee however that it keeps a close eye and manages the problem of hospitals being overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients. In addition to the problem of staff shortage at health facilities, there is a problem of absenteeism by healthcare workers.

The committee appreciated the honest manner in which Limpopo’s department of health presented the challenges it faces. On the challenge of staff shortage, the committee told the department that staff recruitment needs immediate attention. The committee advised the department that, given the prevailing pressure of workload which is presented by Covid-19 circumstances, the expiring contracts of healthcare workers should be extended.

Dr Phophi Ramathuba said the crisis of overcrowding at Beitbridge Border Post during the festive season and the lack of adherence to health protocols had an impact on the province, as some Covid-19 tests were being conducted at the border after people were failing to produce conclusive tests.

She said another challenge in the province is that private healthcare facilities are facing severe capacity constraints, due to resurgence in Covid-19 cases. “The private sector is struggling, there are no beds and people are dying,” she said. She added that medical aid insurances are not assisting the people.

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