Inside George Mukhari hospital’s second wave

The City of Tshwane, the municipal area in which George Mukhari academic hospital is situated, is a Covid-19 hotspot. The hospital lies next to Ga-Rankuwa, a sprawling labyrinth of settlements that stretch to the border of the North West province, and serves a population of about 1.7-million people. We arrived at George Mukhari late morning on January 15 and spent time in the Covid-19 wards, including the intensive care unit, until late afternoon. 


Increased intensity: A nurse in a Covid-19 isolation ward at the George Mukhari hospital gives her patients their meals. Healthworkers say it almost feels as if they’re dealing with a different virus during the second wave. There are far more patients and deaths, and the disease seems more intense. (James Oatway)
A patient receives oxygen in an isolated room in one of the Covid-19 wards. Covid-19 treatment at George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria. South Africa. (James Oatway)
Faster spread: A patient with Covid-19 symptoms (above) waits for treatment. Because the new variant spreads faster than the original virus, there have been more hospitalisations during the second wave. But the 501V.2 variant doesn’t make people sicker: we’re seeing more deaths and hospitalisations in the second wave because there are so many more cases; however, the proportion of deaths in relation to the total number of cases is not higher than during the first wave; a security guard (right) mans a desk at the accident and emergency ward entrance. It’s cramped, hot, poorly ventilated and resembles something like a traffic jam. There’s no room for proper social distancing. (James Oatway)
Security at the entrance of the Accident and Emergency ward. Covid-19 treatment at George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria. South Africa. (James Oatway)
Wave of chaos: ‘This second wave is chaotic. It’s worse than the first wave. Our wards are always full,’ says staff nurse Lenah Lefifi. ‘I’m afraid of getting the virus. We wear our PPE [personal protective equipment]. It’s all we can do.’ Would she take a vaccine? ‘I’m not sure. It’s very new,’ she says. (James Oatway)
‘Infectious bodies’: The accident and emergency ward is packed, but the staff insist it’s a quiet day. Patients are lying or sitting on gurneys with oxygen pipes attached to their noses and drips attached to their wrists (above). Oxygen suppliers say they are struggling to keep up with high demand for medical-grade oxygen; a porter wheels a gurney with a body tightly wrapped in plastic and covered in a green sheet out of the back (right). He will take it to the mortuary, which currently has plenty of space. The body will be placed in a special, cordoned-off section marked ‘infectious bodies’. (James Oatway)
Mental health concerns: Mpho Kunene is the operational manager of George Mukhari’s Covid-19 wards. She makes sure there are enough staff and equipment. She says: ‘We were badly prepared for the first wave — we didn’t have wards for isolation. We just nursed the patients wherever we could. Thankfully, we’ve had renovations done for the second wave … But we don’t have enough psychological support. It’s difficult coming to work when you hear that a colleague has passed.’ (James Oatway)
The body of a patient who was suspected to have died as a result of Covid-19 is removed from the Accident and Emergency ward. Covid-19 treatment at George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria. South Africa. (James Oatway)

This story was produced by the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism. Sign up to its newsletter

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Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.
James Oatway
James Oatway is an award-winning, independent South African photojournalist. Most of his work revolves around themes of social inequality, migration and people affected by conflict. He is the former Chief Photographer of the Sunday Times. On 18 April 2015, during a wave of xenophobic violence, he photographed the murder of a Mozambican migrant by South African men. The man’s name was Emmanuel Sithole and the images of his death sparked outrage and made international headlines. In 2018 his documentary project on the Red Ants eviction squad, won the prestigious Visa d’or Feature Award in Perpignan, France.

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