The Gauteng Community Health Care Forum (the Forum) had its first online Committees and Monitors meeting on Saturday, 16 May 2020. The participants struggled to stay connected for the duration of the online meeting due to bad network connection. This is mainly because telecommunications infrastructure is completely inadequate in areas where poor and working class people live in South Africa. Some participants also struggled to connect online because it was their first time using these kinds of online platforms.
Forum meetings are usually be held at Khanya College’s House of Movements in Johannesburg, but since the country is on lockdown due the COVID-19 pandemic, CHWs have had to meet online. The purpose of the meeting was to address the problems currently facing CHWs, who work directly with the community, providing healthcare at the ground level. Despite this lack of recognition as permanent employees by the Department of Health (DoH), CHWs are essential workers.
The Forum has been conducting daily surveys to verify whether CHWs in clinics have received Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and if so, how often. Although CHWs reported different experiences in the different clinics across Gauteng, it was found that about 80% are still being sent to do community healthcare work without adequate PPEs. The amount of PPEs given to CHWs differs wildly from day to day, and at times no PPEs are given. Despite the Department’s official statement that CHWs should not perform any fieldwork without PPEs, team leaders are still sending them to distribute medication to patients or to do COVID-19 screenings, even without PPEs to protect themselves with. Where masks are being issued, CHWs are asked to use 1 mask several days at a time, and are advised to wash the mask after work for reuse the following day.
It was also reported in the meeting that there were some carers who were exposed to other staff who had tested positive for COVID-19. But in some of these cases, the team leaders did not allow the CHWs to self-isolate for at least a week to prevent the possible further spread of infections.
The issue of intimidation of CHWs by department officials was discussed by the meeting. The meeting encouraged members to stand their ground and refuse to be intimidated. The Forum has set up a legal team to defend CHWs who are being intimidated. This team had already scored a victory when CHWs at Wanneburg clinic forced management to give them special leave after they were exposed to a COVID-19 case.
In order to strengthen the work of the legal team, the Forum discussed the reopening of training for the legal committee of the Forum, and the meeting also reported on the work of activist journalists (FAJs).
It is clear that the protection and safety of CHWs is not being considered as they are being sent out to work without PPEs, and they are expected to do all their duties as normal, even though the DoH is aware that there is a contagious virus that is not only affecting ordinary people but especially medical personnel too.
The Forum approached the Department about these risks that CHWs are being exposed to. The Department’s only response was to advise that the CHWs not go to work without PPEs and request to know which clinics have not received PPEs. The Forum has since opened a legal case against the Department because of its negligence that is putting CHWs lives at risk.
The Forum has responded to the pandemic by creating and distributing flyers educating CHWs about the coronavirus. The flyers have focused on three forms of education. There were flyers on the coronavirus, PPEs, and a flyer on COIDA (Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act). CHWs have also handed out sanitisers and masks to CHWs in clinics at the beginning of the lockdown. In addition to the surveys to find out if PPEs are regularly being given to carers, the Forum has also engaged various media houses to get coverage of the lack of PPEs while it has continued to work with other organisations within the social justice movement.
The government continues to fail working class people. Even though it promised communities food parcels, CHWs reported that they have not been informed if and how these food parcels are being distributed, and as the ones who deal directly with the community they do not know which communities are benefiting from these food parcels.
This article was submitted on 16 May 2020. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (www.Karibu.org.za), and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.