DA KZN: Port Health authorities / airport block Ebola readiness oversight visits

Dr Imran Keeka, MPL

DA KZN Spokesperson on Health

Despite repeated attempts by the DA to visit KZN Port Health Authorities and King Shaka International airport and assess the state of readiness to prevent Ebola entering the province, officials have used every trick in the book to prevent this from happening.

It is the constitutional mandate of the DA to perform such a visit.  Yet our requests have led us from pillar to post in a tangle of bureaucracy.  This raises the question – what are they trying to hide?

I have reached the end of my tether over this and will today write to KZN Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo and the KZN health portfolio chairperson to intervene so that such a visit does take place.  I will also call for the persons who are brick walling this visit to be brought to book for obstructing the law.

One facility which I did manage to visit last week was Addington Hospital – KZN’s designated hospitals for Ebola treatment should it reach our province.

There I visited the isolation unit made ready for the treatment of any patient in the province.  This unit hasn’t been used in at least four years.  It has eight beds and is well stocked with the necessary protective clothing that would be required.  There were a few minor issues in this regard but nothing that would affect staff or encourage the spread of disease.

There are, however, other more serious issues which demand urgent attention;

–          The unit does not have a life support machine in the event that one is required.  Since this unit is not only for the use of Ebola patients, this remains a worry.

–          While the main entrance to the unit is completely separate from any of the hospital entrances and remains guarded and locked, the door used for patient entry to the unit is broken – apparently so that the MEC could inspect the premises.
Staff gave me an undertaking that it would be repaired shortly.

–          A team of doctors and nurses in the hospital have received training for any eventuality but none have experience in treating Ebola patients.

–          Hospital theatres are not functioning, which means that, if at any stage surgery is contemplated for whatever reason in an infected person or recovering Ebola patient, the hospital can do nothing.

While a formal hospital policy document was not available, the general impression given by the CEO was that, in management discussions, measures have been reasonably been put in place in keeping with the national Health department norms and protocols for Ebola. Alarmingly though, other than the 8 beds in the unit, no other plan seemed to be in place if full capacity is reached.

Oversight visits by DA colleagues in other provinces reveal a similar situation.  The exception is the Western Cape, which has adequate preparations.

Ebola remains a serious international threat especially since the number of infected continue to rise and it’s deadly spread continues daily. Deaths from the incurable infection continue to increase every day.  It remains classified by the WHO as an international emergency with no known cure.

KZN’s Health MEC and the provincial portfolio committee must prioritise this matter.  An urgent assessment of the readiness of port and airport authorities to deal with a potential Ebola outbreak must be done.