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Eastern Cape scooters also used in East Africa: Mkhize
10 July 2020, 2:43 PM

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says scooters with mobile sidecar clinics are also being used in East Africa after countries ordered them from the same source that the Eastern Cape Health Department procured its fleet.

The provincial Health Department has suspended its controversial project in which it spent R10 million to order 100 scooters with mobile sidecar clinics intended for use in the province’s rural areas.

The move comes after public outrage as evidence emerged of a hastily organised launch of the scooters, which Mkhize attended last month.

Mkhize says the scooters were procured to support the department’s transport system.

In the video below, the Eastern Cape health reacts to backlash over the scooters:

Confusion is continuing on how the issue is being handled, after Mkhize said on Thursday that the Eastern Cape did not consult his department on the specifications of the medical scooters.

He was speaking in a written reply to a Parliamentary question by DA MP Siviwe Gwarube who wanted to know if the scooters were suitable for transporting patients and whether the national Health Department was consulted before the procurement.

Dr Mkhize said the scooters did not meet the criteria for transporting patients. He said the province had been informed that none of the scooters should be used as ambulances.

In the video below, reaction on Mkhize’s assertion on the scooters:

The Eastern Cape Health Department’s Head Dr Thobile Mbengashe on Friday sought to clarify the confusion surrounding the controversial procurement.

“What is being clarified now is that we are not buying scooters to transport patients. We are buying them to transport community health workers. What we are really demonstrating is that it can be possible to put those kinds of side parts to put patients and what we saw there was actually that can be done. It’s not what we bought (them for), but what the scooters are actually capable of doing,” Mbengashe explained.

In the video below, Mbengashe explains the R10 million scooter debacle:

Healthcare workers concerned as Gauteng expected to be SA’s COVID-19 epicentre
8 July 2020, 10:20 PM

Gauteng is preparing for the worst as the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing rapidly. This is a daunting prospect for essential workers, some of whom are re-entering the lion’s den right after recovering from the virus.

Gauteng is expected to become the epicentre of the virus. Logically, this would mean Gauteng will surpass the Western Cape which currently has the highest cases countrywide.

Now the pressure is mounting over the safety of healthcare workers and the capacity within facilities.

Bandile Masuku says he expects the province’s COVID-19 cases to surpass the Western Cape figures: 

Road to recovery

A nurse at one of Gauteng’s public hospitals contracted the virus on the job. He recounts his experience.

“I was having a high fever. I had shortness of breath and a difficult cough. Then I decided to consult. After six hours that day, they called me and said I tested positive.”

His condition worsened, landing him in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

“The high-flow machine is the one that is connected to your use and helps you breathe when your lungs are weak. It’s attached to the nostrils and it is very uncomfortable and sometimes you struggle to breathe.”

The road to recovery was lonely and difficult. The health practitioner says the experience also took a toll on his mental health.

“Because of this traumatic experience, I have to arrange and decided to go home and see my family and it was difficult for them to accept because really I was not sick, I was dying. I had to explain to my kids that I am here and I am trying because I may look physically fit, but mentally I need to recover. It’s very difficult for me to return to where I was working because remember I can even see the bed I was lying on. So, mentally I have to recover,” says the nurse.

‘Stigmatisation’

Despite first-hand access to information and knowledge on the virus, healthcare workers say they are not exempt from stigmatisation. The social stigma around the virus is the cause behind him remaining anonymous.

His appeal to the public as we approach the peak season is for everyone to abide by the regulations.

“I understand that the hospital is going to be full now because most people are not complying and taking this virus seriously. As a healthcare worker, I emphasise that people need to follow what the government said,” says the nurse.

As it stands, the country has already surpassed the 200 000 mark on positive cases. The number of active cases in Gauteng is expected to exceed those of the Western Cape.

“It was not expected to happen this soon. It was expected to happen around July. At the current rate, we are seeing fast increase and it’s related to how the behaviour has turned out during lockdown Level 3,” Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku said.

Of the over 200 000 confirmed cases, over 100 000 recoveries have been recorded. So far, over 3 500 deaths have been reported in the country.

In the video below, healthcare workers express concern as Gauteng is expected to be SA’s COVID-19 epicentre:

Ramaphosa mourns Queen Noloyiso Sandile’s passing
8 July 2020, 9:32 PM

President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed sadness over the passing of the Queen of the Rharhabe Kingdom, Her Majesty Queen Noloyiso Sandile.

Queen Noloyiso is the widow of the late Rharhabe King Maxhoba Sandile.

She is a sister to the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini.

In the video below, SABC News talks to Family Spokesperson, Inkosi Xhanti Sigcawu:

In a statement released by the Presidency, President Ramaphosa described Queen Noloyiso as a bastion of traditional values and an inspiring leader of her people.

“Queen Noloyiso played a significant role in the affirmation of traditional values and leadership in South African society at large, and in the development of her kingdom and the Eastern Cape more broadly.”

He also acknowledged the role she played in support of the national efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus by calling on communities to halt traditional initiations.

Queen Noloyiso died of COVID-19 related illness at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane.

“We join the Great Place of Mngqesha and amaRharhabe in mourning her passing; at the same time we pay tribute to her for her deep and unwavering commitment to the upliftment of her people and to her country. May her soul rest in peace,” the President said.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane also conveyed his condolences to the Rharhabe Kingdom.

“We were interacting with the family a few days ago where we were arranging everything possible to ensure that she is well looked after. So it comes as a shock this afternoon, but it also shows the challenge we are confronted with; with what is going on in our society, with regards to what this virus can do out there. So we just want to call everyone to really support the family, support the Kingdom.”

Unions happy with agreement reached with SAA
8 July 2020, 9:11 PM

Unions say they are happy to have secured a salary increase for the number of workers who will keep their jobs at the South African Airways (SAA). Six major labour unions and government reached an agreement on severance packages for SAA employees.

In a statement, the Department of Public Enterprise says all unions, except those representing pilots, have accepted the new Voluntary Severance Package deal.

About 2 700 employees will lose their jobs. However, the retrenchment packages will be supported by a social and skills development plan through SETA for those who will not be retained.

In the video below, unions say they are happy to secure more jobs for SAA employees. 

On the other hand, unions say the airline will retain 1 000 employees while an additional 1 000 will undergo training as part of a layoff scheme.

Numsa Spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola says the agreement speaks directly to their goals as unions.

“The fact that we’ve now come to a point where the DPE has agreed that the airline should start off, not with just 1 000 employees, but also accommodate an additional 1 000, speaks directly to our goals,” says Hlubi-Majola.

In the video below, Numsa says it will head to court to prevent SAA liquidation:

The South African Cabin Crew Association (SCCA) says it has advised its members who wish to accept severance packages and sign as individuals to do so. But for those who want to remain employed, there will be talks for them to keep their jobs.

“We didn’t see a need for any specific agreement to be signed as VSPS are a voluntary process. So, we have not opposed that was offered to our members on an individual capacity and of course, we find ourselves having access of about 3 000 people that remain. And we are saying we still want to engage with the DPE  in terms of reduced salaries, talk for those people who still want to be employed,” says SCCA president Zazi Nsibanyoni.

SAA went into business rescue in December 2019 following years of losses and multiple state bailouts.

Next week, the airline’s creditors will finally vote to accept or reject the rescue plan drawn up by the business rescue practitioners. A 75% vote in favour of the business rescue by the voting interests is required to carry the decision.

In the video below, Labour unions happy with the increased number of those who will retain jobs at SAA:

SANBS exploring the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19
8 July 2020, 8:42 PM

The South African National Blood Services (SANBS) is exploring the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19. This as the world races to find a vaccine for the disease.

Convalescent plasma treatment involves taking the antibodies from the blood of a recovered patient and transferring them to a person who is infected with COVID-19.

The SANBS trial is in two phases; the collection of convalescent plasma from donors and a randomised clinical trial.

A team has started the collection phase, but is awaiting ethical clearance to begin the human trials.

The idea of using convalescent plasma as a treatment is not by any means novel. Convalescent means recovering, as Marion Vermeulen, who is the senior manager for operations testing at SANBS, explains: “When a person becomes infected with a virus or a bacteria or any kind of pathogen, their immune system starts to make antibodies to fight that virus so that they themselves can get better.

“So, those antibodies remain in your plasma, the clear liquid part of the blood, and depending on the virus, they can last for many months. So, after the person has recovered from the virus, they can donate their plasma, which now contain these antibodies, and those antibodies can now be transfused into a person who is currently ill with that same virus. And the idea is that the neutralising antibodies that are in that plasma will fight the virus in the patient’s body while the patient is trying to develop their own antibodies,” Vermeulen adds.

The hypothesis is that the virus will not be able to replicate as fast as it normally would and the patient would hopefully be able to recover sooner and have milder symptoms of the disease.

Vermeulen says convalescent plasma therapy has been used in the past to treat other respiratory virus infections.

“For COVID-19, it has not proven to be effective yet. That is why we are doing these trials. In the past though, it was very effective for the Spanish flu in 1918. More recently, for Sars-1, there were a number of randomised clinical trials that showed the effectiveness of the treatment. And again for Mers, not as many randomised trials, but still there were randomised clinical trials that showed it to be effective. Sars-cov and Mers are both coronaviruses and both respiratory viruses.”

A number of scientists around the world have been exploring the use of convalescent plasma as a possible treatment for COVID-19. However, Vermeulen says the studies have not been conclusive due to various factors.

“There’ve been some case reports in China, and again these are not randomised clinical trials and the only way to determine if it really works is through a random clinic trial. But the case reports that were published from China show patients did well. And there has been another randomised clinical trial that was stopped early that has just come out of China, where they showed some improvement in some of the outcomes, but they were not able to show statistical significance and it’s because it was stopped too soon. They didn’t have a sufficient sample size.”

She says in addition to the Chinese tests, some countries have also looked into observational studies.

“And there has been what has been called observational studies where a number of people were given the plasma and they looked to find patients who were similar to that group who didn’t get the plasma. So they would match them for age, and gender and comorbidities and severity of the disease, and look to see well this person got the plasma, this person didn’t get the plasma and what were the differences. In some of those observational studies, they have shown that there has been an improvement in disease. So with that information, we are hoping that it will work, but it can only be tested with the clinical trial and then we will know for sure.”

Vermuelen has emphasised that the only means to obtain conclusive data is through randomised clinical trials.

“So, there are many randomised clinical trials happening at the moment in the world, but none of them yet have got to the end where they have got the data. There is a number in the UK, in Europe and in America that are taking place as we speak. So, as soon as we have results, and it can be shown that it is effective, then we will not do the randomised clinical trial anymore. We will use it as a treatment. But in the absence of any data yet proving that it works, we only give it in the randomised clinical trial.”

The SANBS studies are in two phases. The first entails collecting, storing and testing the convalescent plasma. This phase has been given ethical clearance and has already begun. However, Vermeulen says the second phase will only begin once the Human Research Ethics committee has given them the green light.

“The second protocol is the randomised clinical trial. It is a placebo-controlled phase three clinical trial. That protocol is at the moment with the Human Research Ethics committee for approval. And next week we will be submitting it to SAPRA for approval. And only once it has been approved will we start that study.”

Vermeulen says after being given the go-ahead, a sample of 600 patients will be enrolled in the trial.

“The eligibility criteria will be patients who have been hospitalised and have moderate to severe illness and are not mechanically ventilated. And then they will either get the treatment, one dose of convalescent plasma, which is about 200 to 250mls of convalescent plasma, or they will get a placebo which is a saline. They will be followed over 28 days and a number of primary outcomes will be looked at. The obvious one is reduced mortality, admission to ICU, discharge from hospital, viral load and antibody levels.”

While the ethics committee reviews the second phase of the study, those wanting to donate their convalescent plasma can apply via the SANBS website. If the trial is successful, this will add another weapon to the arsenal that can be used in the fight against COVID-19.

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