Eastern Cape needs 3 000 ICU beds for Covid-19 storm, peak expected over next 3 months

Livingstone hospital in Port Elizabeth.
Livingstone hospital in Port Elizabeth.
Lulama Zenzile
  • The Eastern Cape health department said it was aiming to keep the death rate at less than 3%.
  • Covid-19 is expected to peak in the province in July, August and September.
  • Premier Oscar Mabuyane said things were going to get "worse", and to counter this they were building one field hospital in each district.

The Eastern Cape Department of Health is racing against time to increase its number of general beds to 10 000 and intensive care unit (ICU) beds to 3 000 in order to meet the demands of Covid-19 during its peak period.

Department of Health superintendent general Dr Thobile Mbengashe told News24 on Tuesday the deadly virus is expected to peak in the province in the months of July, August and September.

He was speaking after a coronavirus command council press briefing in Bhisho on Tuesday.

"Based on the focus in terms of demand at the peak of the epidemic, what we know, based on our projections, is that we're going to need 10 000 beds, that we think we have in our current health facilities, together with the additional beds we're going to build through the field hospitals," Mbengashe said.

"The critical need is that of the ICU. Our estimate is that we should [need] about 3 000 ICU beds. We have 300 ICU beds that we are going to bring in. We know now because of the latest development that we can still provide what is known as non-invasive ventilation that makes a huge difference to patients."

Mbengashe said many of the repurposed beds the department had planned for severely ill patients were going to be reticulated and fitted with oxygen points.

He hoped the fitted oxygen points would provide critical beds way beyond the 300 ICU beds.

He said the department aims to keep the death rate at less than 3%.

'Going to get worse'

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, who warned the virus was going to get worse, said the province was building one field hospital with 500 beds each for all six district municipalities and two metros. He said this was "to ensure that we are prepared for the surge of patients with Covid-19 infections".

Mabuyane said: "This will give us a combined total of 4 000 medical beds throughout the province. These are not normal beds. These are medical beds with all required medical resources and high care medical equipment to save lives. We have recruited an additional 1 000 nurses and over 5 000 community [health workers].

"It is clear to us that the virus is now at a stage where it is not only infecting us, but it is also affecting us. Thus, every citizen must contribute to efforts that are meant to fight against the spread of this virus.

"Our first line of defence against this virus remains washing our hands with water and soap, sanitising regularly, wearing our masks correctly all the time when we leave our homes and by keeping to the social distancing when in public spaces."

Mabuyane said the provincial government had appointed additional health workers for hospitals to address challenges faced by other health workers at the Dora Nginza, Livingstone and other hospitals in the province.

Patients 'fighting over oxygen'

Mbengashe denied media reports that patients at Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth were fighting each for oxygen as the hospital reportedly battles a critical shortage.

"That is not true, nobody is fighting over oxygen. The reason that is not true is that the provision of oxygen is a medical decision of the doctor. What happened at [the hospital] is that we had a high number of maternity patients who needed to be treated, and we had problems at our clinics who were not able to [treat them]. The oxygen is available," he claimed.

Mabuyane said the problem was that feeder clinics had to send patients to the cited hospitals due to cases at the feeder clinics.

"The problem of oxygen availability is a national problem of demand and supply. In the Eastern Cape, we have oxygen available in all our major hospitals. The problem of maternity overload was caused by the maternity and obstetrics units from the feeder clinics which were affected by staff who had Covid-19 positive infections."

He said the provincial Department of Health will provide additional nurses and general staff for Uitenhage and Motherwell maternity services.

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