The first week of April, just two weeks into our first lockdown period saw a hospital and a clinic close their doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Durban’s St. Augustine’s Hospital seeing 47 staff members infected and four dead. This week it’s the Netcare Kingsway Hospital, Amanzimtoti that closed its doors to new patients as an outbreak caused by a patient, has seen 12 people quarantined and Mediclinic Morningside similarly has shut down with 12 staff members positive for the virus, seven of whom are healthcare workers.
Whilst South Africa’s ‘curve’ does seem to have dramatically slowed down and although health care facilities have been scrambling to put their preparedness into action, the risk remains high, with a probable second severe wave predicted*.
According to Burt Rodrigues, CEO of Biodx, “When the initial panic over Coronavirus settled in South Africa, a lot of people took their foot off the threat and moved into a more relaxed, false sense of security. After all our figures aren’t like most of the world – we’re doing relatively well… This type of thinking is where things can and will go very wrong. We need to stay completely focused on the original plan, taking into account the latest research and stages going forward. The risk remains the same, although for some it has become hidden.”
For many years drug resistant infections, commonly known as superbugs, have been plaguing hospitals worldwide where people go in to be treated, often for a minor complaint, become infected, seriously ill and possibly die. Whilst this situation didn’t go unheeded with hospitals often battling these virulent bacterial and viral strains with everything they have, they were far from winning this war. And then along came the Coronavirus.
Can we control infections?
Whilst these superbugs were fought with strong disinfection and training on staff hygiene, there were obvious areas that were missed. Unlike the current pandemic the cleaning and the medical staff’s lives were never on the line – until now. For instance, how often do the cleaning procedures take place? With serious staff shortages in our hospitals, do the staff even have the time or the inclination to wash their hands, sanitise or change gloves when they should?
Rigorous protocols, education, discipline and the correct materials are required for all hospital staff, combined with real-time support of highly professional, effective cleaning & disinfection teams. If we’re to further avoid further mass contamination and hospital closures, it is for us to use our best science as it becomes available.
In the case of the Duduza Clinic, which serves a population of around 80 000 people, a nurse tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a church gathering in Bloemfontein, then returned to work. Have all our health facilities got adequate screening processes and test kits in place for all staff from doctors to contract workers?
During and after Covid-19
Will all these new protocols and more effective disinfecting materials see not only the demise of Covid-19 but of superbugs also? This, along with many other questions will be asked post pandemic.
“No continent will be untouched by this pandemic – all those who intend to see it through cannot rest. We can’t let our guard down for one minute,” concludes Rodrigues.
*SA’s Covid-19 epidemic: Trends & Next steps – 13/04/2020 – page 17
**See article: Hospital Infections – a bigger threat than climate change?