Supporting overcrowded health centers and vulnerable communities in the aftermath of violence – South Africa


After a week of unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, residents are still feeling the effects of violence, with many vulnerable communities – especially informal settlements – reporting difficulties in accessing food and health care. health. Despite the return to calm, health establishments are still in difficulty due to the increase in the number of cases.

More than 270 people were reportedly killed in riots and looting which also disrupted access to essential health services, food, fuel and other essentials. Trucks, shops and shopping centers were set on fire and looted, along with 90 pharmacies and some medical centers. Long-standing inequalities, high levels of poverty, an unemployment rate of over 30% and the devastating economic fallout from a year of successive COVID-19 shutdowns, have left millions of South African residents desperate and unhappy .

During the violence, some hospitals and health centers were forced to close while others became inaccessible to staff and patients. Many understaffed hospital emergency departments have been overwhelmed by an increase in the number of trauma patients.

“Médecins sans frontières (MSF) has launched an emergency response to provide emergency support to communities and health facilities affected by the violence,” said Philip Aruna, head of the Africa support team southern region of MSF.

In Johannesburg, MSF teams assessed several areas affected by violence and provided nurses with trauma experience in emergency rooms at a clinic in Alexandra and a hospital in Vosloorus.

“Our goal was to enable these overburdened facilities to better cope with the increased volume of trauma cases as some nurses were unable to reach the facilities. which they delayed during the unrest as well as to renew prescriptions for chronic illnesses, such as HIV, tuberculosis, hypertension and diabetes, ”says Aruna.

In KwaZulu-Natal province, Pietermaritzburg, MSF loaned oxygen concentrators to a local hospital as part of our long-standing project in Eshowe to ensure that patients with severe COVID-19 are properly cared for .

At this hospital, the competing priorities of treating an influx of trauma cases and severe COVID-19 cases simultaneously are straining the overloaded capacity. Days after the violence, many patients were still receiving treatment for violent injuries, occupying intensive care unit beds that cannot be allocated to critical COVID-19 cases.

In Durban, MSF teams have also been providing direct support to the informal Briardene camp since July 18.

“About 250 families lost their homes and belongings in the fires that ravaged the informal corrugated iron settlement during the week of unrest. Mothers and young children were forced to sleep in the open air and the community had difficulty accessing food. Many people were unable to access medical care due to insecurity or the closure of certain clinics, ”explains Adeline Oliver, nurse for the MSF emergency team.

The MSF team set up a tent to provide emergency shelter in the informal camp and distributed 600 blankets, 250 hygiene kits and other basic necessities. A medical team offered consultations and basic care.

“Four of the first ten patients we treated in the informal settlement in Durban had suffered trauma – three of those injuries were from violence and we set up a station where we could heal the wounds. As we continued to work in the community, we saw patients affected by smoke inhalation as the fire raged and they tried to retrieve their belongings. We have also found that there are significant unmet mental health needs in the community, ”says Oliver.

MSF will continue to provide independent and impartial health services in Briardene for the remainder of the week. Our assessment of the health gap in KwaZulu-Natal is ongoing.

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