Health workers fearful of risk of getting Covid-19

City of Tshwane health workers go door-to-door to screen for Covid-19 in Atteridgeville township in Pretoria.
City of Tshwane health workers go door-to-door to screen for Covid-19 in Atteridgeville township in Pretoria.
Image: Alet Pretorius/ Gallo Images

There are growing fears among frontline health workers in SA, with the biggest union in the sector claiming more than 300 employees have contracted Covid-19.

In the latest case, a member of the Gauteng health department's Covid-19 tracing team in Pretoria tested positive, forcing the team to suspend operations yesterday.

The employee, who is in her 50s, tested positive after tests conducted on Tuesday came out positive at the weekend.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) yesterday said there was now anxiety among workers who feared they may be next.

Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba said: "Of course, anxiety exists amongst workers. They get scared when they see other workers get infected and we have been calling for assistance for workers' mental health during this tough time and this must include counselling."

Xaba said they were worried about the growing number of workers who were testing positive.

"According to the national department of health, more than 300 workers have been infected and this is caused by lack of PPEs [personal protective equipment], noncompliance to occupational health and safety standards as prescribed in the act, [and] most workers have not been trained on putting on and removing PPEs including disposing safely of used PPE."

The family of the employee who tested positive said they were living in fear that they may all be infected.

A family member who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fears of stigmatisation said: "We don't know if we are also infected. We are staying with two kids aged eight and 10 years, who are classified as high risk as a result of their underlying condition and are vulnerable to infection."

The worker was asked to self-isolate at home as her family, including her husband, await their results after all being tested.

Other health officials based at the Tshwane district's health offices in the inner city were also tested, including the security guards as they are suspected to have come into contact with the infected person.

One of her colleagues confirmed that they were sent home to self-quarantine
after one of their members tested positive.

"It is true that indeed one of our own team member's test results confirmed Covid-19. We wish her a speedy recovery. We are at home now until results clear us."

Provincial health spokesperson Kwara Kekana confirmed that a member of the Tshwane district outbreak response team tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday.

She, however, denied that operations had to be suspended.

"Operations have not been suspended. There are teams conducting screening and testing in Tshwane, and operations will continue," Kekana said.

National health department spokesperson Popo Maja said he did not know where Nehawu got the figures from.

"I am not sure what is the source of their information. Government is very concerned about health workers being infected. It is for this reason that PPEs are prioritised for health workers," Maja said.

Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said it was expected that frontline health workers would be the most exposed. Masebe said protocols to be followed had been developed for where a health worker contracted Covid-19.

"So far there hasn't been issues with the tracing teams but there were a number of health workers that had tested positive both in private and public institutions. It remains a concern of course but we have to do everything to ensure that we protect the people," Masebe said.

General secretary of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union, Rich Sicina, said the positive cases are as a result of the poor quality and shortages of PPEs. "If we test everyone it should gives us an idea of where we are. Secondly, the PPEs health practitioners are given are not proper according to us; surgical masks just tear."

Sicina said they had written to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting among others that all frontline workers be tested for Covid-19 before being sent out to conduct tests and screenings in communities.

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