Gauteng premier David Makhura is seeking to declare Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) a local state of disaster.
Addressing the Gauteng provincial command council briefing on Friday, Makhura said Covid-19 was an emergency necessitating the urgent reopening of the hospital.
The Johannesburg hospital was shut down after a fire gutted parts of the public health facility on Friday, April 16. Nearly two months later and it remains closed, largely due to compliance issues.
Makhura said that, while the outstanding infrastructure compliance matters must be addressed, he believed it did not require a total shutdown of the hospital.
“We want to declare a local state of disaster at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital. It may enable us to not wait for three months before all those issues are fixed. Covid-19 is an emergency,” the premier argued. “The hospital is in a better position open than closed.”
Covid-19 third wave
Makhura said the option of declaring a local state of disaster has been discussed with clinicians and legal advisors in a bid to save lives.
With Gauteng leading the uptick in Covid-19 cases and subsequently driving the third wave of infections nationally, he said: “We are reaching a point where we have to make decisions of life and death.”
The current rise in Covid-19 infections in Gauteng is not yet as steep as previous waves. The data show that, while infections are doubling every 15 days, in previous waves, at similar case loading, infections were doubling every 10 to 11 days.
NEW: 1st wave vs 2nd wave vs 3rd wave in GAUTENG#COVID19 case numbers in Gauteng still rising sharply, and driving national numbers??— Ridhwaan Suliman (@rid1tweets) June 3, 2021
Interestingly, current rise in GP (doubling every 15 days) is not yet as steep as previous waves (at similar case loading, doubling 10-11 days) pic.twitter.com/PwSKgZHrmV
As at Thursday, Gauteng had recorded 19 877 active Covid-19 cases. It is followed by the Northern Cape with 8 596 and the Free State with 8 503 active cases recorded.
An inspection of the oncology unit at CMJAH is scheduled for Friday. As part of a staggered reopening, the hospital plans to open the doors of its oncology unit first, as cancer patients have been critically affected by the hospital’s shutdown. CMJAH remains one of the only hospitals in the province and neighbouring provinces that offers outpatient oncology services including radiation and chemotherapy.
As a result, some patients face increased risk of morbidity and mortality.
Disruption to subspeciality care
The hospital is ranked high in Gauteng – offering specialised treatment. Patients from surrounding provinces are routinely transferred to CMJAH for dialysis, by-pass surgeries and selected cancer treatment.
Speaking a week after the fire, Professor Steve Moeng, director of trauma surgery at CMJAH, said: “Let us be frank. Unfortunately, there will be some disturbances and delays in treatment. Our aim in the middle of a disaster is to reduce the negative impact of that, as best we can. We have tried to allocate them to one area so that at least there is continuity of care. We hope that, as soon as possible things can turn around so that we can continue the services the way we have been able to offer them before.”
CMJAH in Parktown was declared a no-go zone due to safety risks. The building in its entirety has not yet been deemed safe to enter.
This has made it impossible to access specialised equipment to transfer to the hospitals where patients have been temporarily accommodated.
In April, Gauteng health department spokesperson Kwara Kekana said: “Unfortunately, at this stage, no equipment could be moved due to safety measures enforced by the disaster code.”
But Makhura insists “there is no structural damage to the building”, adding that careful consideration must be given to balancing the reopening of the hospital with ensuring the safety of hospital staff and patients.
“You may not have to wait for 100% compliance. We can’t afford to have that facility out of service at the moment. I want that hospital open. I am not sleeping.”
With the third wave placing pressure on the already overburdened health system, Makhura insists “we can’t go through June without Charlotte Maxeke”.
“How else are all the institutions going to cope? I can’t throw a rule book when people are dying. I can’t throw a rule book about a door that needs to be replaced and it is ordered but it will only arrive in September. I can’t throw a rulebook when people are dying, and lives could be saved because we have that hospital. It has some of the best equipment and just technically it has compliance issues.”