By Zwelihle Sukati | 2020-05-23
Because government cannot afford to supply frontline workers with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19, voluntary workers in the communities are expected to strip their clothes outside their houses after each day’s work to avoid bringing the deadly virus to their homes. This advice came during a workshop for voluntary workers under the National TuberculosisControl Programme (NTCP), who have been assigned another mammoth task of attending to COVID-19 cases in the communities. Information gathered is that volunteers, currently under the TB programme, were engaged in a number of regional workshops around the country.
This was to equip them to now also attend to COVID-19 cases in their respective communities. The final workshop for the Hhohho region was held last week Thursday. What came as a frightening to the volunteers came about when they questioned as to how they were going to be protected from contracting the COVID-19 pandemic without being provided with personal protective equipment.
“The facilitators of the workshop told us in no uncertain terms that there were no resources to provide PPE, save for N95 masks and gloves,” said one of the volunteers, obviously speaking on condition of anonymity in fear of reprisal.
“We were told in these workshops that one measure we have to take to prevent bringing the deadly virus to our homes was to strip our clothes off, before we open doors to our homes and get water and soap to wash them.” The novel virus can be contracted from contaminated fabrics, on which the virus can last for a couple of hours. The fears of the voluntary workers were shared by a number of the workshop participants who were engaged by this publication. “Even worse is that we are expected to start the COVID-19 community work on Monday, according to a communiqué that has been circulated, yet we haven’t been paid for us to buy the required soap to do the daily laundry,” concurred another in a separate interview.
The volunteers say they get their monthly stipend by the 8th of the following month.
They also disclosed that they are paid about E1 300 per month.
“Having been roped in as volunteers for the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been told that we will not be getting any increased pay for the extra job due to financial constraints.” Director of Health Services Dr Vusi Magagula, when reached for comment, said this was an operational matter, which the ministry was yet to engage with those handling the case findings.
“While is it true that the handling of cases of TB are similar to those of the novel coronavirus, we will engage those on the case findings,” he said.
Dr Magagula went on to emphasise that the issue of personal protective equipment hadbeen a problematic one.
“However, the volunteers will get the much-needed equipment but then again, like I just said, this is an operational matter and the bottom line is that we are doing everything possible to protect workers and everyone from contracting the coronavirus.”
COVID-19 volunteers likely to face rejection
Volunteers for the new COVID-19 community project are likely to face rejection as they go about their work, they say. Their worry is that they haven’t been provided, so far, with any clothing material that will identify them as skilled in attending to cases related to the novel coronavirus.
“All along, people in the communities have known us as equipped volunteers for TB related cases, not COVID-19,” they say.
“Next thing, they see us coming in as COVID-19 cases attenders, but dressed in National Tuberculosis Control Programme (NTCP) branded T-shirts. Will they not question our capacity in dealing with COVID-19 cases?” they wondered.
‘This is abuse of the unemployed’
President of the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) Bheki Mamba says government is abusing the unemployed citizens who are desperate for jobs. Mamba took a swipe at government, saying just because people were desperate for jobs, government was as a result toying with their lives.
“The precautionary measures to be taken against COVID-19 were almost similar to that of TB, as much as the infection, that doesn’t mean extra precaution was not needed,” the nurses’ association president pointed out.
He said the volunteers were now getting into an environment where extra precaution was needed, because of the uncertainty of whether they were attending to people indeed infected with COVID-19 or not.
“There is a lot of abuse of people needing employment with this government and to expose these desperate citizens without the provision of safety measures is just inhumane,” he complained. Mamba said even the stipend given to these volunteers was nothing compared to the risk to their lives that they were being pushed into.
SWADNU strongly condemns govt
Government has been strongly condemned by the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) for what the organisation’s president termed ‘oppressive and inhumane’ treatment of healthcare workers.
What we continue to observe with our government, as opposed to what we are seeing in other countries, is the total abuse of the rights of healthcare workers,” Bheki Mamba, the SWADNU president said. He highlighted that government had an obligation to ensure that workers were safe and provided with all working tools to carry out their duties.
“PPE are working tools,” he declared. “How is it that we have never heard of government assigning police and the army to beat up people without (ticwayi) batons, ammunition and teargas canisters?” Mamba also questioned why it was the case that government was failing to spend when it came to the health of the people.
“The world has demonstrated the importance of investing and spending in the health of citizens but that is not the case with the current government.”
We do everything to protect health workers – Health ministry
“The fight against the novel coronavirus is a big job and we are doing everything we can to protect health workers from infection.”
This was said by Director of Health Services Dr Vusi Magagula in an interview. “Government’s financial position was known to all and sundry, but what was basic was that indeed we should give more,” Dr Magagula said.
“And we are not taking advantage of anyone.” The director of health services clarified that it shouldn’t appear as if there was some money being kept aside by government.
“We are trying everything to minimise cases and spread of the COVID-19 and this is a big job.”
Precautions against COVID-19
n Wearing of masks in all public spaces. If you have flu symptoms, wear a mask at home.
n Keep the home environment clean and safe. Disinfect all high touch surfaces regularly and ensure proper ventilation.
n Stop shaking hands and use other none touch methods of greeting.
n Maintain a distance of at least 1 metre from each other.
n Wash hands regularly with running water and soap or use alcohol based sanitisers
n Create habits and reminders to avoid touching your face (mouth, nose, eyes) and cover coughs and sneezes.
n Take care of the vulnerable, especially senior citizens and those with underlying respiratory conditions who are more susceptible to the coronavirus infection.
How has govt contributed in fight against COVID-19?
Government’s spending in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has been put to the spotlight once again. “We have seen donations from the United States, the private sector, Taiwan, and the king’s contribution in the fight with his birthday budget. What of the government? Where has the government contributed, save for the endless announcements,” SWADNU president, Bheki Mamba, wondered. “Must the population believe that this government cares or not? “Can government point to a single contribution; be it personal protective equipment, drugs or anything in the fight against coronavirus.
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