Rapid COVID-19 spike strains South Africa's health system as churches rush to aid those hit

(Photo: © Hope Africa, 2020)Hope Africa delivering food in South Africa.

South Africa's has by far Africa's highest COVID-19 infection rate in Africa, and is likely to pass the 400,000 mark this week while the health system in its Eastern Cape Province - has collapsed with reports of patients lying on dirty, bloodied floors in urban hospitals.

Cape Town's Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba says the situation in the province where the Angican Communion has a strong presence is "devastating".

The church network has had to spring to the aid of communities lambasted economically as well as health-wise by the pandemic.

"Every ward in that hospital is doomed and it's painful because everyone is dying ... the nurses are working in a hellhole ... they are dying like flies," said nurse Doris Mpayipeli of Cecilia Makiwane Hospital.

She works in a large government-funded, provincial teaching hospital in the Mdantsane township of East London and spoke to the local Daily Dispatch newspaper this weekend.

Only the United States, Brazil, Russia, and India have reported more COVID-19 cases, but these countries have also much bigger populations than South Africa with its 59 million inhabitants.

Earlier this week, the youngest daughter of former president Nelson Mandela, Zindzi Mandela, became South Africa's most prominent Covid-19 victim, aged 59.

Judy Ngoloyi, a spokesperson for the Eastern Cape provincial health department, confirmed to the Dispatch that 165 nurses had tested positive for COVID-19 at the Makiwane hospital alone.

In Eastern Cape hospitals in the Buffalo City metropolitan area that includes East London, and Mdantsane township, 271 nurses had died so far due to Covid-19-related complications.

The economic heartland of South Africa, Gauteng province, is the current COVID-19 hotspot, but now more than a third of the country's infections are now in the Eastern Cape on the Indian Ocean seaboard which has two big urban areas.                                         

(Photo: © Anli Serfontein)Zindzi Mandela in 1985. On July 13, 2020 she died of COVID-19. © Anli Serfontein

The Eastern Cape has underlying pre-COVID-19 weaknesses in water, food, housing, and basic infrastructure shortages, coupled with a high unemployment rate boosted by rampant corruption which has speeded the health system collapse.

The COVID-19 crisis and the resulting lockdown triggered an economic crisis and growing poverty that led to the strong Christian community in the country being called in.

The Anglican Church has strong ties to the Eastern Cape, the diocese of Grahamstown was established in 1853.

Dean Andrew Hunter of St. Michael and St. George Cathedral in Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown said this week, "As soon as the Covid-19 lockdown started in March we got requests from the broader community for help and there has been a phenomenal response to our Cathedral's Covid Care Fund."


It enables the cathedral to distribute food vouchers and 530 food parcels every two weeks.

South Africa's Herald newspaper reported on July 15, that the dean of Health Sciences at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Lungile Pepeta said that the temporary COVID-19 hospital in the province funded by Volkswagen and the German government is not adequately staffed.

A fortnight ago he warned that a shortage of nurses and doctors and the failure of a coordinated response by the health services in the province, has meant the health system has collapsed.

Professor Sonwabile Mnwana of Sociology at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa wrote in the Daily Maverick this week, "Of course, that the Eastern Cape public health is overwhelmed does not come as any surprise to the majority of citizens in the province.

"Almost every citizen who has encountered the system over the past five decades would concur that the system was never ready for a pandemic of any scale. In most rural healthcare centres – where these even exist at all – there have been serious staff and equipment shortages for decades."

The Eastern Cape metropolitan areas of Buffalo City (including East London) and Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) are hardest hit at this stage, while some rural areas like Sterkspruit are affected in terms of water and food shortages.

During the level five strict lockdown parishioners from the Cathedral helped pack 800 food parcels every two weeks under the umbrella of Makhanda Circle of Unity, a co-operative forum for business, civic and local government bodies.

As infections rise by about 13,500 each day in South Africa, the strict lockdown phase has been lifted in order for people to return to work and keep the economy floating. Three million people have lost their jobs already.

The Social Development Programme for the Anglican Church in southern Africa, Hope Africa, says it has run out of funds to help vulnerable communities during the novel coronavirus pandemic affecting thousands of people depending on the aid.

"Our biggest challenge is that we as the church don't have enough funding to reach out to all the needs. The distances are vast and much of the area is rural. We have run out of funds to continue sending food vouchers.

"Churches have also been saying that there is less food available to continue feeding during the pandemic." Canon Delene Marks, CEO of Hope Africa said on Wednesday.

Hope Africa also supplies water to strongly affected communities like Sterkspruit, a badly-affected rural community.

"Water is a problem as the government has water shortages and quite often the taps run dry," Canon Marks said. There are reports in local newspapers this week of protests as anger grows in rural areas of the Eastern Cape at the failure of municipalities and central government to provide a regular, clean supply of water during the COVID19 pandemic.

This articles was modified from an article that first appeared in Medium

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