As COVID-19 cases increase, vulnerable people’s lives are at risk around the world. The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) representing many CHWs who are working tirelessly to fight the outbreak is concern about the CHWs who are highly put at risk of being exposed to the virus. Governments must ensure that the necessary preventative and protective measures are put in place to fight COVID-19. We call on the government to respect the occupational health and safety of CHWs, who are on the frontline of battling this pandemic, the CHWs deserve better including the communities. We need every single CHW to have access to the right personal protective equipment. Not tomorrow, or in a week as the government promised yesterday, but now. CHWs lives depend on it.
As a union, we are not interested in the commitment but we want the government to provide PPEs to safe our CHWs and the citizens of this country. CHWs fear that they may have to take further action should the equipment run out as they are concerned about the lack of PPE and testing kits at some workplaces.
Each day we hear of new shortages of gowns, visors, goggles and masks at workplaces like Pedisong 1 Clinic; Middleburg Hospital; Finetown Clinic; Mountain View Clinic; Lawley 1 Clinic; Barney Molokoane Clinic; Vlakfontein Clinic including both Dischem and Long-Meadow Pick N Pay to name just a few, where the CHWs are exposure to the coronavirus and other infectious diseases. When CHWs are being sent out there with one of the most highly contagious viruses without tools or a coordinated plan, it becomes physically and mentally challenging for the CHWs.
In KZN, we currently have CHWs who are expected to work although the Department of Health’s own circular does not include the CHWs to be at work, the employer is also telling them to work tracing with no PPE. Dischem members feel like they are caught between their responsibility to care for the public and their own safety with no choice but to keep working at great personal risk and the fear of not losing their jobs.
It is frightening, the complaints from CHWs shows the increasing sense of fear, frustration and powerlessness many feel as COVID-19 hits the health care system. This is a desperate situation, and the lives of CHWs are at stake. Their struggle may well show that South Africa is facing a national shortage of personal protective equipment.
Some hospitals have started locking away their supplies, fearful that patients or even staff might steal the PPE for their own use, while other facilities have advised for reuse of PPE mask for 7 days which is currently neglecting the basic coronavirus infection control.
NUPSAW’s most urgent need right now is to protect its members against COVID-19 and the devastating impacts it will have on our communities. The government isn’t doing it. The employers aren’t doing it. It isn’t just about one infection. It can’t just be in times of struggle. If we cannot protect the CHWs, they can’t protect the public, we cannot allow our members to go and get infected by the pandemic.
For more information:
NUPSAW Media Officer
Cell: 083 712 1614