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Much-mocked motorbikes go where ambulances cannot: Health ministry

The Eastern Cape health department is deploying 100 modified motorbikes to reach patients in deeply rural areas.
The Eastern Cape health department is deploying 100 modified motorbikes to reach patients in deeply rural areas.
Image: EC MEC Health via Facebook

Deep rural areas of the Eastern Cape where patients have to travel on foot or be transported on wheelbarrows to access health care is where newly unveiled medical motorbikes will be utilised, says the health ministry.

Government on Friday unveiled 100 of the specially adapted motorbikes which can ferry patients either seated or lying down, and are covered to ensure they are waterproof.

The “baby prams” were scorned on social media with people querying the type of care that would be delivered by the personnel and whether they would be able to traverse Transkei roads. Questions were also raised over the cost of the vehicles and to who the tender was awarded.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize got a ride in one of the 100 scooters that will be usd to enhance figtht againt COVID-19...

Posted by EC MEC Health on Friday, 12 June 2020

Acknowledging this, the health ministry said in a statement, “We have received backlash from the public.”

The bikes are intended to help health personnel doing field work and home visits and are not intended to replace ambulances, it explained.

The Eastern Cape department of health had received complaints from rural communities that because of lack of road infrastructure, ambulances do not reach people who are sick, especially the elderly. “The members of the community end up having to put an individual in a wheelbarrow or walking a long distance while carrying a patient until they reach a road where the ambulance can go.

“These are motorbikes that are designed for off-road capabilities and the intention is for these units to be able to transport patients to the nearest clinic.” 

In addition, the motorbikes can be ridden by two community health workers to carry out tasks such as Covid-19 screening in deep rural areas and general health screening and testing for other communicable diseases such as TB and HIV as well as non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension. They can also be used to deliver medicines.

“The dignity and health of our people remains a top priority and we will continue to explore all avenues to ensure that even the poorest members of the community enjoy the right to quality health care,” the ministry said.

“It is proven that when health workers are visible in the community and bring preventative health care into the home, this reduces the burden on health care facilities and ultimately saves people from disability due to ill health or death due to uncontrolled chronic disease.

" ... This model has been highly successful in countries like Cuba.”

Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said at the launch of the project the motorbikes were being introduced “because for far too long we have had [the challenge that] our ambulances could not get to people in far-flung rural areas”.

“We want everyone to have access to medical care. The department has its fair share of challenges, that much we acknowledge, but getting to people regardless of their location should not be one of them. It will not be one of them any more. No matter how treacherous the roads leading to your village, we will now be able to get to people in need of medical care.”

Gomba also called on communities to defend health personnel from criminals.

Ambulance crews have been under siege from criminals who have targeted them, she said. “That has to end because when ambulance crews are attacked and robbed, that will disadvantage the whole community, as no-one will willingly go to hotspot areas. We have to call thugs out and report them to law enforcement agencies.”

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