'State will kill people from other diseases'

President Cyril Ramaphosa checks out the Covid-19 ward at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, with health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
President Cyril Ramaphosa checks out the Covid-19 ward at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, with health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Image: WERNER HILLS

The government's response to the coronavirus pandemic is not sustainable and will cause serious harm to the country's healthcare system in the long run.

This is the view of a group of 38 public and private healthcare doctors across the country who wrote a scathing open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa and health minister Zweli Mkhize.

The group have warned that the government's decision to plough every resource into the fight against Covid-19 has led to other healthcare needs that affect the majority of South Africans being neglected.

The doctors described the government's response to coronavirus as "driven by fear and panic".

The group is made up of 23 public health doctors and 15 private doctors.

The list of doctors include general practitioners, anaesthetists, gynaecologists, paediatricians, ophthalmologists and orthopaedic surgeons among others.

They raised concerns about non-Covid-19 chronic diseases such as TB, HIV/Aids, malnutrition, influenza and pneumonia being overlooked when they actually kill more people than coronavirus.

The doctors said the decision will cause irreparable harm to the healthcare system post Covid-19.

They accused the government of only being concerned with saving Covid-19 patients while neglecting non-Covid patients.

Health department spokesperson Popo Maja said it was insincere for the doctors to make such utterances as every action the government was taking was towards saving lives.

"It is very insincere for those guys to say that Covid-19 has swallowed healthcare. It's a lack of sound medical training to say that measures that are taken to control the pandemic, as we have right now, deprive citizens of healthcare," Maja said. "None of the public healthcare, except for elective surgery, have been halted.

"All the extraordinary measures we are taking during this pandemic is to save lives of South Africans."

According to the doctors, 446, 544 people in SA die from non-Covid-19 causes a year,
totalling 1,200 deaths a day with 120 perishing from TB, 116 from influenza and pneumonia among others.

They said that other healthcare services which focus on the majority of South Africans have been suspended or halted, including surgeries, while non-Covid-19 patients were
released earlier than usual to make space for coronavirus patients.

"It seems this model [distributive justice ] is no longer being followed in our fight against Covid-19. We fear this will be to the detriment of our ability to provide healthcare services for non-Covid patients both now and for many years to come," the letter reads.

The Sunday Times yesterday reported that there was a revolt against the lockdown restrictions from scientists, business and labour who called for its lifting as they say it has no scientific basis that it works.

The doctors who wrote the letter also echoed the same sentiments, saying that the government's narrative to stop the spread of coronavirus instead of managing it has created an "illusion" that the virus can be avoided altogether.

They said that lockdown, although effective to a certain point, does not stop the spread of the virus.

Since the lockdown was effected on March 26, the number of positive cases have climbed from 218 with no reported deaths to 14,355 with 261 deaths by yesterday.

The medics said they are concerned that Covid-19 has caused the government and citizens in general to react to fear and act in haste.

The group said decisions being made by the government are short-sighted and only consider the short-term fight against Covid-19, at great cost to the future of our public healthcare system.

"We fear that Covid-19 care is overshadowing the non-Covid-19 healthcare needs of patients and our ability to provide for those needs now and in years to come," they wrote.

Dr Bonnie Freeman from King Dinizulu Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, who co-authored the letter, said she could not comment on behalf of all the doctors but that she had taken up issues relating to her hospital to the minister.

"This letter is signed by a large number of doctors and I can't speak on behalf of all of them," she said.

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