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“No healthcare worker’s life should be on the line due to lack of resources”

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Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, is adamant that no healthcare worker should be exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19 on duty due to inadequate resources.

A healthcare worker from the World Health Organisation prepares to give an Ebola vaccination in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo. File photo by AP/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro.

HEALTH Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has reiterated that no healthcare worker should be exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19 on duty due to inadequate training, protection and support, including the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The national Health Department met with unions on Saturday to discuss issues relating to the occupational safety of healthcare workers, infrastructure and remuneration.

The meeting was attended by the Health Department’s senior national officials, provincial Members of the Executive (MECs) and their Heads of Department (HODs).

In a statement released following the meeting, the Health Department said there was clear common ground between government and unions that a zero tolerance stance will be adopted regarding the availability of PPE to all healthcare workers.

The department confirmed that there was enough PPE stock in the country but acknowledged that the issues pertain to the movement and distribution or redistribution of stock.

“Based on all the above, it should be clear to all that the primary protection of health workers is a matter on which we will all agree, with no exception. Our approach must therefore be to support the simple ethos: no PPE, no work.

“We believe that this should motivate management and labour to ensure there is not a situation where someone declines to work. It is unfair to put any worker in such an invidious position,” the department said.

While all parties noted an improvement in the situation since concerns around PPE were initially raised, the Minister directed that the availability of PPE needed to be jointly monitored on a daily basis at all facilities.

“As far as the national department is concerned, any unattended problems will automatically mean that the Occupational Health and Safety committee is non-existent or non-functional, and that there is non-compliance with legislation. This will invite decisive consequence management.

“To ensure that parties engage on the same basis, unions will have direct access to information contained on the department’s web-based dashboard and digital stock visibility system,” said the department.

This will enable unions, together with management, to conduct daily audits at facility level. It will easily allow for tracking of granular details such as sizes available, quantity and evidence of quality assurance.

“This will be very important, as issues of monitoring PPE should best be managed on the ground. Similarly, issues of transportation and distribution of PPE should be managed by the same committees at facility and district level.”

The department also highlighted that a common understanding needed to be brokered with regards to the use of PPE in various work settings.

The meeting recommended that the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 collate information from all stakeholders and issue an advisory that can be acceptable to all parties and applied across all provinces.

This will also provide an opportunity for any revisions that need to be considered, based on feedback from health workers.

Mechanisms to enhance support for health care workers, who become infected, will also be strengthened.

“It will be important to provide a service that encompasses pre-test counselling, post-test counselling, quarantine/isolation support and support for those who fall ill,” said the department.