Society praised health professionals and other essential workers for showing up, risking contracting Covid-19 at work and carrying the country on their shoulders during these challenging times. We have been monitoring the Covid-19 numbers daily and focusing on the third wave, and we are now glued to our screens for a different reason.
The ongoing looting and unrest reminded me of the day in March 2020 after the president announced the lockdown, and I returned from work to the empty shelves of our local grocery shop.
I had mixed feelings of disappointment because work had kept me from getting essential supplies. I was coming from a Covid-19 response planning meeting and feeling proud of my contribution to the country’s health.
Nothing prepared us for the current mobocracy, although the enabling circumstances have been the elephant in the room. Be that as it may, health professionals continue to provide services ranging from vaccination in primary health clinics to life-saving treatment in the ICU.
Despite the threat to their health, shrinking revenues in the private sector and the emotional toil triggered by the pandemic, health workers honoured their promise to society.
Like other health service providers, our medical practice has experienced reduced utilisation of health services since the pandemic. However, we are attending to sicker patients, making it challenging to tighten operational costs despite reducing working hours for some of our staff.
The pictures and videos shared on social media of looted medical practices are of great concern. The looting and damaging of property are deplorable. Such is a symptom of anaemic social cohesion and a considerable threat to security, including that of health establishments.
One wonders what fuels people to destroy medical practices in the era of a pandemic. Have we forgotten the praises and appreciation shared not so long ago? The pandemic made us appreciate all essential workers, including those working in health facilities, grocery shops and banks, to name but a few.
Looters did not spare healthcare practices, clinics and pharmacies from these events, begging the question of whether they are still considered providers of essential services. Affected health professionals and their support staff will experience a psychological toll from these events, including the dire economic situation facing them.
Today, we wake up to imminent unemployment and worsening poverty for people working in the affected establishments and many more.
The ethics principle of reciprocity characterised by “returning the good that one has received” leaves much to be desired in the current state of affairs. People injured during these riots still require care from health professionals. Health professionals still have to plan and avail themselves as part of Covid-19 response structures should these gatherings exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.
Privately-owned health establishments seem to be more affected by looting and vandalism. Healthcare practices were slowly recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic and are now experiencing double jeopardy.
Other countries are paying essential workers Covid-19 bonuses or hazard allowances, which is not happening in our country. The US adopted policies to ease financial pressure on hospitals and other health service providers due to lost revenue and new costs related to Covid-19.
What happened to the social solidarity meant to bind the individuals in a society? Essential workers like health professionals deserve extra protection and care from the community and government.
We will experience the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic and the recent events for quite some time. The widening income gap in an unequal society threatens public health, the economy, social cohesion and national security. Indeed, the pandemic is shining a spotlight on the country’s pre-existing sociopolitical and economic structural ills.
Dr Kubheka is a medical doctor and co-founder and managing director of Health IQ Consulting