NEHAWU Statement On The Rising Number Of Healthcare Workers Getting Infected With COVID-19
Saturday April 18, 2020
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] is deeply concerned about the growing number of frontline healthcare workers who are getting infected with COVID-19 while on duty.
Recently, we have observed an upsurge in the number of healthcare workers who have been exposed to the virus. News of workers getting infected have been hogging news headlines for the past couple of days. Private healthcare providers are the biggest culprits in failing to put proactive measures to protect workers from contracting the virus while in the frontline of actively fighting the virus. This includes hospitals like Mediclinic Morningside, Netcare Kingsway, St Augustine and recently Netcare Pholoso in Polokwane.
NEHAWU has been very tenacious in emphasising the need to protect and defend healthcare workers who are our first line of defence against the virus. We have pointed out on numerous occasions the dangers of lack of adequate Personal Protective Equipment [PPE’s], training on the proper use of PPE’s by healthcare workers and general education on how to deal with the virus. Our efforts include going to court to compel the National Department of Health, the provincial health departments and the Department of Employment and Labour to protect our members and workers from contracting the virus in their workplaces.
We have been engaged in an extensive awareness campaign in the form of posters and other social media material to educate our members, workers and the general public on how to mitigate the dangers of the virus. However, this still requires a broader collective effort from all sectors of our society to decisively deal with the spread of the virus. In this regard, the national union proposes the following as an urgent intervention to protect healthcare workers:
- Both private and public healthcare institutions must ensure that they have adequate PPE’s in stock. Moreover, they have an obligation to ensure that their stock of PPE’s corresponds with the headcount of their workers to eliminated shortages. In this regard, we call on all healthcare workers not to perform their duties without proper and sufficient provision of protection in a manner that puts their lives at risk. Workers are encouraged to put their lives first before attending to the nation hence the national union calls on all healthcare workers to report such to shop stewards at the branch level or elevate such incidents to the regional office for urgent solution. At the same time, we call upon all managers at different levels not to force or intimidate workers to work without proper PPE’s as this is tantamount to attempted murder and a criminal offence.
- The national union became aware that not all the 10 000 volunteers – Community Healthcare Workers and other Health Professionals were screened and tested prior performing their mammoth task of screening and testing communities, this in our view constitute a serious problem hence it calls on provinces to be directed to ensure that all volunteers and healthcare workers are all screened and where a need arises are tested through a vigorous and dedicated programme of the sector where progress must be reported to the Occupational Health and Safety Committees existing national, provincial and workplace levels including to the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council [PSCBC] COVID-19 Task Team.
- This screening and testing must run concurrently with the investigations that have been announced by the Department of Health, provincial governments and affected hospitals and NEHAWU volunteers to provide information and evidence to help these investigations.
- The supply of adequate PPE’s and training must also include Community Healthcare Workers who are vulnerable to contracting the virus while being exposed in communities.
- Immediate training of healthcare workers on how to deal with the virus including the proper sequence of putting on and safely removing Personal Protective Equipment. In this regard, the union has brought to the attention of the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Science and Technology, Dr. Blade Nzimande, the need to engage the Sectoral Education Training Authorities [SETA’s] to make resources [Funds] available for the training of healthcare workers including Community Healthcare Workers who are volunteers on the proper use of PPE’s conducted by institutions of higher learning particularly those who provide health related studies as a discipline. We are looking forward in meeting with him to take our proposal further on elaboration and in action.
- The Department of Health and the Department of Employment and Labour must enforce and monitor compliance by healthcare institutions to Occupational Health and Safety standards as prescribed in the Act. Inspectors must frequent workplaces to enforce and monitor compliance. Non-compliance is a punishable offense and offenders must be exposed in public and punished accordingly.
As NEHAWU, we are worried that if the situation does not improve drastically very soon we will be facing a similar situation like in Italy where nearly 17 000 workers have contracted the coronavirus. We need to urgently and decisively stem the tide against new infections of healthcare workers more so because the loss of workers through being exposed to the virus because of the lack of PPE’s strains our already overstretched workforce. Any new infections would spell disaster to our already understaff healthcare sector.
NEHAWU remains a constructive partner in the broader fight against the virus with its immediate priority being the protection and defence of all its members and workers who are breadwinners and heroes against unsafe working conditions and reckless employers.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat
Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968
December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969;
Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU National Spokesperson) at 082 455 2500
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