SA’s health system was illprepared for pandemic

Johannesburg – The Department of Health has admitted to how badly prepared the health system was for the Covid-19 pandemic when the country went into lockdown level 5 last year, saying it is now better equipped to deal with the third wave of infections.

Speaking during a World Health Organisation (WHO) virtual briefing last Friday, Dr Norbert Ndjeka, the director for drug-resistant TB, TB and HIV at the Department of Health, said Covid-19 exposed the weak health systems in the country and that more focus should also be placed on other life-threatening illnesses.

“The pandemic has taught us to be better prepared in the future. When the country went into lockdown level 5, TB patients and HIV patients complained that they didn’t have access to their medicine.

“We were badly prepared. We now have catch-up plans in place and have made sure that there is adequate supply and that the same doesn’t happen again,” said Ndjeka.

Ndjeka’s admission came a few days after South Africa recorded 5 782 infections in a single day, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s confirming that the country was officially in the third wave of Covid-19 infections.

WHO’s regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said with vaccine shipments to the African continent grinding to a near halt, it was urgent to boost critical care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed.

“The pandemic is trending upwards in 14 [African] countries and in the past week alone, eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30% in cases. South Africa is reporting a sustained increase in cases, while Uganda saw a 131% week on- week rise last week, with infection clusters in schools, rising cases among health workers and isolation centres and intensive care units filling up.

“The increase comes as Covid- 19 vaccine shipments continue to slow down,” she said.

Moeti said with the WHO approving China’s Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine, she was hopeful that the pandemic will soon end.

But she said that while many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups, African countries are unable to follow up with second doses for highrisk groups.

“I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care.”

“Altogether, 48.6-million doses have been received and 31.4-million doses have been administered in 50 countries in Africa, where about 2% of the population have received at least one dose, while globally 24% have been vaccinated.”

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