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Shadow of Covid-19 will stay with SA for a long time, says panel of experts

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While many South Africans may be excited to finally walk around without a mask in public, a panel of experts says the legacy of the coronavirus will remain with us for a long time.

File picture: Unicef South Africa

WHILE many South Africans may be excited to finally walk around without a mask in public, a panel of experts says the legacy of the Corona virus will remain with us for a long time.

During a webinar hosted by Higher Education Media Services, a panel of experts – which included academics and scientists – explored the effects of the pandemic and its impact on South Africa’s HIV/Aids programme.

South Africa is high on the list of countries with a high HIV rate.

Despite this, the National Health Department had perfected its HIV/ Aids response with the free distribution of antiretro viral (ARV) drugs.

Dr Samantha Potgieter, an infectious disease expert from the University of the Free State, said the pandemic had disrupted access to treatment for chronic illnesses such as HIV.

According to the government, more than 100,000 people lost their lives to the pandemic over the last two years. Internationally, six million deaths had been recorded.

“This is not only unique to HIV medicine. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected our health-care system. There has been significant damage in what we term collateral damage. Patients were not making it to adequate levels of care,” Potgieter said.

She said hospitals also saw the shortage of doctors and nurses. Some doctors had contracted the virus while some had been scared of operating in an uncertain environment when the pandemic was still new.

“So many were either ill or quarantining. We will see the effects of all of this in the future,” Potgieter said.

Reflecting on the last two years of the pandemic, Potgieter said she saw many people die from the virus.

She said doctors had seen many deaths but because of a decrease in infections the death rate had gone down recently.

“Covid-19 is not over. I can certainly say that we are entering a different phase of the pandemic. We know that there is a widespread immunity within our South African population,” Potgieter said.

Potgieter said some people were experiencing long-term or lingering effects.

“It’s likely that there will be more variants with a degree of immune escape,” Potgieter said.

Psychiatry expert Dr Suntheren Pillay said mental health also took a knock during the pandemic. Patients with serious mental illnesses like bipolar or schizophrenia had struggled to access medication and treatment.

“All our chronic bipolar and chronic schizophrenics did not take their treatment adequately and got more stressed by not socialising,” Pillay said.

Pillay said while governments around the world treated Covid-19 with a very serious response, other essential aspects of humanity were neglected such as the servicing of cities and food security.

“We neglected the services of our cities and the maintenance of our cities. We neglected everything and we cannot neglect society’s needs to just focus on Covid-19. It’s going to be here a for a long time,” Pillay said.

Pillay said the world was suffering from post-Covid trauma. He said during this time many people lost their jobs, while some had to deal with the death of loved ones and a complete change in normal life.

“People are dealing with the grief of loved ones. People are dealing with with the grief of mask anxiety. Then we have a whole generation of kids that spent two years behind masks,” Pillay said.

Just as South Africans thought they were getting a break from mask-wearing a new virus was reported to have emerged in South Africa – monkeypox.

While the virus is not deadly, unlike the coronavirus, there were concerns that the Covid-19 outbreak may have invited the spreading of more infections.

The panel discussed the manner in which the media reports on scientific matters as well as how correct messages could be sent to the public without causing a panic.

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