There is a glimmer of hope for many rural hospitals in the Eastern Cape as the provincial government has been forced to fast-track their refurbishment to capacitate them to deal with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
A decision by the Eastern Cape provincial government to refurbish existing dilapidated hospitals in deep rural areas in the region, rather than build field hospitals, means a much-needed facelift will be given to health institutions that have been in a state of collapse for years.
And, in just five months, work has begun at some of the facilities, while refurbishments at others are nearing completion.
The provincial executive committee of the provincial government, led by Premier Oscar Mabuyane and a team of MECs, visited hospitals in the Alfred Nzo district to monitor progress. With the delegation was Babalo Madikizela, the head of the province’s department of public works and infrastructure, which is tasked with rebuilding some of these healthcare facilities.
City Press recently reported on one of the facilities that have received the attention of the provincial government – the Nessie Knight Hospital in Sulenkama, Qumbu. The hospital is in a complete state of disrepair and consists of structures made of mud. Another is Mount Ayliff Hospital in eMaxesibeni (formerly known as Mount Ayliff), from where this newspaper recently reported that people under investigation for Covid-19 were accommodated in three small mud rondavels due to limited space at the facility.
MEC Madikizela, during a visit to the Madzikane KaZulu Hospital in KwaBhaca (formerly known as Mount Frere), acknowledged that there was still a huge backlog of infrastructure in public hospitals around the province, which needed refurbishment.
Madikizela said the province had pumped a lot of money into speeding up development in some of these facilities.
“I agree that we have a backlog in the province. Our infrastructure is dilapidated generally for many reasons. One of them is that we have hospitals which are more than 80 years old, like Isilimela Hospital in Port St Johns. The Nessie Knight Hospital is also more than 80 years old and a mud structure. That’s generally the case when you look around our hospitals,” said Madikizela.
He explained that early projections had indicated that at least R600 million would be needed just for these facilities’ infrastructure to be ready to deal with the virus. However, to have health infrastructure in good working order, R2 billion would be needed.
Although there was no money, they had tried to raise funds and, to date, they had committed contractors up to R595 million.
Madikizela said that, in the Alfred Nzo district, they were spending about R50 million on refurbishing the Siphethu Hospital in Ntabankulu and Mount Ayliff Hospital, as well as for the work the department was doing in Matatiele’s Taylor Bequest Hospital.
“We still need more money to upgrade the health infrastructure in the province.”
He said that, at Nessie Knight Hospital in Qumbu, which was described as “deplorable” by Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, the deputy Public Protector, during a visit there three weeks ago, they would build a new hospital as part of phase two, to add to the accommodation facilities that were built for doctors.
Mabuyane said that, at Madzikane KaZulu Hospital, government had invested R332 000 for internal repair work on the existing building and plumbing, which had been completed.
There was now space and medical resources for 14 hospital beds, with four high-care beds for the community serviced by this hospital.
Phase two of the facelift is under way and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. For this, the province is paying R1.9 million for refurbishment of existing buildings to create space and medical resources for 46 Covid-19 hospital beds, with two high-care beds.
The province had also injected R2.1 million into Mount Ayliff Hospital to provide additional space with medical resources for 20 hospital beds, as well as five high-care beds, using alternative building technology.
The premier said that, for phase one of the refurbishment of Taylor Bequest Hospital in Matatiele, R1.6 million had been spent to provide building space with medical resources for 20 additional hospital beds, as well as five high-care beds, using alternative building technology.
Work had started at Siphethu Hospital at a value of R14.4 million to provide building space and medical resources for 30 new isolation beds, with five high-care beds for Covid-19 patients.
“We’ve had a six-month delay due to the pandemic, so we’re going to double our efforts to meet the targets we set ourselves. Covid-19 has shown us that we can achieve a lot when we work in unison. That’s the same ethos we’re adopting as we heighten the implementation of our priorities, which relate to healthcare provision, education, agriculture, food security and economic development, among other things,” said Mabuyane.
Regarding the fight against the Covid-19 virus, the premier said last month had seen a significant reduction in the number of infections and deaths.
“Our hope, determination and hard work during Women’s Month have paid dividends, as we’ve seen a phenomenal reduction in the burden of Covid-19 in our province.
“There’s also been a reduction in the mortality associated with the virus.
“Fifty-eight percent of the Covid-19 cases occurred in July, 27.6% in June and only 9.4% in August. Similarly, 50.9% of the deaths occurred in July, 27.6% in June and 10.8% in August.
“This shows that, in the month of August, our people resisted the virus both in terms of infections and fatalities, as 86.0% of all the reported cases and 78.6% of the deaths occurred during the June-July period.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the 310 people we lost during Women’s Month,” said the premier.