By Zwelethu Dlamini | 2020-05-31
The country’s efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus took a serious knock yesterday when Regional Response Teams (RRTs) downed their contract tracing tools.
Their main reason for downing their tools was that they accused the ministry of health of failing to address their demands.
According to some of the members of the RRTs, the Manzini region was first to write to the ministry requesting it to address the challenges faced by these teams as they go about their duties which included lack of PPE, overtime, risk allowance and regular testing.
The ministry failed to respond to the correspondence by Manzini region, resulting in the Shiselweni region writing a similar letter hoping to receive feedback.
“We waited for the ministry to respond but they did not address the issues,” said one of the leaders of the contract tracing teams.
As a result, the team held a meeting where it was resolved that they needed to write a joint letter to government.
“We decided to hold a meeting to write a joint letter as the four regions hoping government will respond. We gave them an ultimatum of until May 29 but again they did not respond,” the leaders told the Sunday Observer.
“So today (yesterday) we kept our word and downed the tools,” revealed one of the leaders.
The leader stated that they had been requesting government to grant them risk allowances considering the nature of their job which exposed them to COVID-19 patients as they traced them.
They also want government to uniformly pay them overtime as it has transpired that some were not eligible to claim it while others claimed it yet they did the same job.
A similar message was communicated to the other members through WhatsApp.
“As expected, there was no response from the ministry of health. Therefore, honourable RRTs let us effect our resolution that we took last week Thursday,” read a message sent to all the members of the contract tracing teams.
It further reminded them of their resolution to down tools.
“You will remember that we resolved that if government does not meet our demands, May 29 is our last day. So from tomorrow morning, no contact tracing, no screening, no investigation no what. Tomorrow we will stay in our various lodging places. This will continue until the ministry listens to our demands,” reads a message sent to the leaders in the group.
The regional response team leaders were requested to ensure all the members adhered to the resolution until the ministry had provided feedback through a meeting.
The members were optimistic that their downing of tools will be a catalyst for the ministry to respond to their concerns.
Just as they had anticipated, the ministry is said to have then called an urgent meeting requesting to meet the leaders of the RRTs.
Sources close to the matter stated that the meeting coincided with the routine informative meeting between the leaders and the ministry where they normally report on progress.
“We met with the ministry but the meeting was not informed by the resolution rather it was a routine meeting where government assesses progress. The demands were not in the agenda, however, we were able to present them and government promised to look into the issues as they were already reduced to writing. We are going back to work tomorrow,” said the source.
The source revealed that none of the teams were in the field yesterday as the leaders had attended the meeting.
“No one was in the field today not only because the members had resolved to down tools but also because there is a shortage of vehicles so since the leaders had used the vehicles the teams had no transport to continue with their duties,” added the source.
The Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi, on the other hand, said she was not aware that the RRTs had resolved to down tools as she had nothing on her table in writing that had the demands of the RRTs. If they had a request she was the rightful person to forward it to the relevant structures be it Cabinet or Parliament, Nkosi noted.
She stated she was, however, aware of the meeting and was yet to be appraised of its minutes tomorrow but was aware that the RRTs will be at work too as they had not followed the laid down procedures that would warrant them to down tools.
“If they are asking for risk allowance they may be requesting it on behalf of every health worker as we have had drivers, clerks, nurses, doctors and orderlies contracting COVID-19 as they are all at risk. Concerning the inconsistent supply we are still battling to get enough supply from the suppliers as we also do not want to expose health workers. They should be safe before they can save others,” she said.
Contract tracing is pivotal to preventing the spread of the coronavirus. The teams work long hours to identify many who may have been contaminated, and not be aware.
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