Eastern Cape university goes all in to assist provincial health-care efforts


The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the health system gaps in the Eastern Cape and nationally. Countrywide, we have to start looking after the health of the entire population in far more streamlined ways, and in close collaboration with the clinicians and health services teams on the ground.

The clinicians in our hospitals are in direct contact with Covid-19 patients; they are at the frontline of the fight against the pandemic, yet their voices are not being sufficiently heard.

In collaboration with Dr Litha Matiwane, deputy director general of the Eastern Cape department of health, the faculty of health sciences at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) has been working with medical staff to listen, support them and respond to their needs. 

Together we have established a clinical rapid response Covid-19 steering committee to accelerate and improve the response and action, including intensifying diagnostics and streamlining the referral of patients, the provision of equipment and facilities as well as appointing clinical staff.

Critical vacancies that need to be filled in our public hospitals include (but are not limited to) nurses, radiographers, clinical physicians and clinical epidemiologists. 

Our approach is that we need to draw on all health-related skills and expertise in the public and private sector, in the metro, province, nationally, and within universities.

NMU has already been integrally involved in the Eastern Cape’s response to the pandemic through providing resources such as face shields, ventilators and face masks. The university is also working on screening apps as well as the capturing of data such as comorbidities (one or more disease conditions in the same person) and is involved in coronavirus research.

NMU, along with seven other medical schools at South African universities, is participating in the World Health Organisation’s Global Solidarity Trial — to search for treatments.

To boost Covid-19 testing, the Eastern Cape disaster management teams have identified the current high-risk areas in the province and the National Health Laboratory Services has provided six large mobile testing units which have been deployed across the province. 

NMU’s large mobile clinic called Zanempilo (“bringing health”) will be the seventh. The mobile units will significantly increase Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing throughout the province. PCR tests are comprehensive with superior diagnostic accuracy than the rapid Covid-19 tests.

Planning ahead, the province needs to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and ensure there are enough beds in hospitals and field hospitals. 

It is a unique opportunity to contribute to improving the entire health services platform in the province. This coincides with the growth of the university’s new medical school for which the government is upgrading the wards, pharmacies and outpatient facilities at Livingstone Tertiary Hospital and Dora Nginza Regional Hospital in Port Elizabeth.

The Missionvale Campus will be able to serve nearby townships, such as Missionvale and Zwide, which are populated by working class, unemployed and financially strapped people. Students will train in district hospitals in other parts of the Eastern Cape, including Cradock, Graaff-Reinet, Makhanda (Grahamstown) and Humansdorp. 

The overarching goal, during the pandemic and beyond, is that all people in our province and nationally will have access to professional medical care.

Professor Lungile Pepeta is a paediatric cardiologist and executive dean of the faculty of health sciences at Nelson Mandela University, and Professor Fikile Nomvete is a gastroenterologist and medical programme director of the university’s medical school

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Lungile Pepeta
Professor Lungile Pepeta is a paediatric cardiologist and executive dean of the faculty of health sciences at Nelson Mandela University
Fikile Nomvete
Professor Fikile Nomvete is a gastroenterologist and medical programme director of the Nelson Mandela University medical school

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