Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Friday oversaw the launch and handover of new initiatives and tools to strengthen Eastern Cape’s healthcare system.

Mkhize was wrapping up his two-day visit to the province when he met with provincial Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba to launch the ‘Scooter Project’ – off-road motorcycle units which have been specially fitted to ambulance patients or courier medicine in rural communities which are difficult to reach because of the terrain.

New mobile clinics with increased off-road capabilities were also launched to bring healthcare services closer to the communities that need them.

The Health Minister also received the handover of 200 two-way radio systems from Altron Nexus. The high-end devices have a cross-country range and operates on a secure frequency. These will play an important role in communications during crisis scenarios.

“We have come here to witness the launch of the motorcycles which are being produced in the Eastern Cape to make it easy for healthcare workers to reach out to the most remote and far-flung areas to be able to overcome the very difficult topography where some people live on the top of a very steep hill while others are at the bottom of a very deep valley,” Mkhize said in a press briefing after the launch.

“We want to congratulate the MEC for the initiative we believe that this is a pioneering effort that should be adopted in other parts of the country…The scooters make it easier to save time and energy as we move from one area to the other. It can be converted into an ambulance…and in addition it can also be used as a mobile clinic.”

Speaking about the two-way radios, Mkhize said communication is important for the efficient response to healthcare issues.

“Communication is very important for efficiency in our health system. This helps quite a bit, particulary as it makes it easier for people to call out for reinforcements and for assistance. It is something that can work in a difficult terrain,” he said.

“We needed a lot of communication support as we do tracing and tracking of contacts of those who are positive with COVID-19.

The MEC has bought on board an additional fleet of mobile vans with double-up as ambulances. In this case, it is very relevant because we have been to hospitals where staff have requested to be supported with ambulances that are dedicated. These are areas where issues of terrain make it difficult for ambulance response times to be in keeping with their needs.”

Mkhize said while government fights COVID-19, it cannot lose focus on general health issues in the country.

“Whilst we are facing a challenge of COVID-19, our focus should be on how to strengthen health services in general. As we respond to COVID-19, whatever investments we make must last us a long time,” he said.

“Whilst we are concerned about COVID-19, which is a serious problem…it’s also important to say that there are a lot of other diseases causing mortality out there that we can’t ignore. We can never create an impression that it’s fine to be safe from COVID-19 but you may still succumb to other treatable ailments like diabetes.”

Mkhize emphasized the need to wear cloth masks in public, practice hand hygiene and abide to social distancing.

“With the loosening of the lockdown, the numbers have started to increase. A lot more responsibility has to be taken by each and every one of us as individual South Africans,” he said.