District outbreak response teams not fully operational

Harold McGluwa, MPL

DA Provincial Chairperson

The DA is concerned that it has taken the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to emphasize the fact that there is no district Communicable Disease Control (CDC) structure in the Northern Cape to implement epidemic preparedness and response.  At the same time, District Outbreak Response teams are not functional in Namakwa and Frances Baard districts. This came to light during the Health department’s first quarterly report presentation to the legislature last week.

According to the department, the Ebola outbreak has highlighted the need to strengthen outbreak response teams in the province.

What worries the DA is that dysfunctional outbreak response teams adversely affect the province’s state-of-readiness to deal with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the unlikely event that an individual in the province is infected and needs to be isolated. This could especially pose a problem if a patient presents with symptoms in one of the far outlying areas in the province, as weak CDC structures will jeopardise the case management of suspected cases, including the tracing of contacts. It will also put at risk the lives of health workers, responsible for transporting suspected cases to either Harmony Home in Kimberley, or to the Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington, which has recently also been identified by the department to handle Ebola cases.

Outbreaks are also not limited to Ebola, which has yet to cross over into South Africa. Instead, outbreaks are unpredictable and arrive with no word of warning. In fact, the Northern Cape is especially susceptible to outbreaks of haemorrhagic fever, such as Congo fever.

Based on the current threat of Ebola, as well as the province’s vulnerability to other types of diseases, there can be no excuse for outbreak response teams not being fully operational in each of the districts.

The DA will pose questions to the department to ascertain their state-of-readiness to deal with Ebola, based on the recent dry-run of the suspected Ebola case that was admitted to Harmony Home.

The DA calls on the Health Department to urgently speed up the process of ensuring that district outbreak response teams are fully operational to implement epidemic preparedness and control.   Provincial government needs to treat all health threats with the seriousness that they deserve and be as vigilant as possible to ensure that the Northern Cape remains Ebola-free and that our people are protected from other potential epidemics as well.