As Covid third wave digs in, military health service sent to Gauteng

The South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) has been deployed to Gauteng as an increase in Covid-19 infections places pressure on the province’s health system. 

This decision follows a meeting on Thursday between President Cyril Ramaphosa, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. 

Kubayi-Ngubane made the announcement on Friday during a media briefing. 

“We have requested additional capacity to assist Gauteng .. .for the deployment of the military health into Gauteng … to assist swiftly,” said Kubayi-Ngubane. 

The support would enable public hospitals to “release the capacity of the beds” as a constraint on health workers had prevented the management of additional beds. 

Kubayi-Ngubane briefly addressed the reopening of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg. She said the hospital had about 1 000 additional beds that could presently be used. The hospital was closed on 16 April after a fire. 

On Thursday, the department of health told parliament’s health portfolio committee that Gauteng has a total of 32 495 beds available in the public and private sectors. Of these, 2 343 are intensive care unit (ICU) beds. 

In its daily hospital surveillance report on Wednesday, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 958 people had been submitted to the ICU in the private sector, and 49 in the public sector. The total number of available ICU beds is thus 1 336. 

Kubayi-Ngubane said the military health service will assist with mass testing, screening and contact tracing. 

She said 300 000 Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-shot vaccine doses had arrived in the country on Thursday afternoon, which have been allocated to the private and public basic education sector. 

During the same briefing, public health specialist Nicholas Crisp said additional vaccines were expected next week. 

He said limitations on vaccine availability and the number of vaccination sites were the major reasons the country’s vaccination campaign had not moved as quickly as it should have.  

“All the provinces and the private sector providers have been champing at the bit to open additional sites. And as we know if we want to get closer to the people, we need more sites and we need more vaccines.”

The country is expecting the arrival of 1.2-million J&J vaccines and at least 1.2-million Pfizer double-shot doses on Monday. 

Kubayi-Ngubane urged South Africans to be responsible and not risk the lives of others by not adhering to health protocols. 

On Thursday, South Africa recorded 11 767 new Covid-19 infections, bringing the total number of active cases nationwide to 104 437.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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