Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has ordered an investigation into allegations that a doctor at the George Mukhari Academic Hospital, who died from COVID-19 related illnesses recently, did not have adequate personal protective equipment to prevent contracting the virus.

Provinces have also been instructed to ensure that the Occupational Health and Safety Committees are established and psychosocial counseling to deal with the trauma experienced by health care workers is made available.

These are some of the urgent interventions put in place to ensure the safety of healthcare workers on the frontline of South Africa’s fight against COVID-19 – a matter which Mkhize says is a priority.

The Health Minister was speaking during a media briefing on Wednesday during which he outlined an analysis of the country’s fight against COVID-19 to date.

“As government, we have constantly given our commitment to the public that the protection of health workers, including doctors and nurses, is of utmost importance. This workforce remains at the frontline of our battle against COVID-19 and it is in our interest as government to ensure that they are protected,” he said.

Addressing the death of a doctor at the George Mukhari Academic Hospital, Mkhize said a team led by Professor Taole Mokoena – together with other medical, nursing and legal professionals – has been appointed to conduct an urgent investigation.

“I want to assure members of the public that if individuals entrusted with positions of power in health facilities or even at district level are found to be in dereliction of duty by not ensuring adherence with health protocols, appropriate action will be taken against them,” Mkhize said.

“We also recognize the critical role-plays by unions in representing their members’ views and concerns at the workplace during this period. We have noted reports from unions collected through their fact finding missions. I have since instructed the provinces to ensure that PPE is immediately made available at those facilities highlighted and for a report to be made available.”

Speaking about the trajectory of the virus, Mkhize said there has been reduced hospital admissions and Persons Under Investigation presenting in health facilities; that the country has not breached hospital capacity; and that despite the surge, we have not seen a significant increase in deaths.

Developments in treatment have also reduced the mortality rate of those admitted to ICU with COVID-19 illnesses. Studies show that ICU mortality has been reduced by about 25% since the introduction of dexamethasone on June 16 and that ICU survival rates showed dramatic improvement to about 30-40%.

As part of improving the records of COVID-19 related deaths, Mkhize announced that government now requires all sudden deaths and those that occur at home have specimens taken for COVID-19 before a death certificate is issued.

To bolster South Africa’s response to the virus, the WHO will be sending in 43 senior experts to advise on strategies and provide input on decisions the Department has taken thus far.

The first 17 experts will touch down on Wednesday.

“We can never over-emphasize the importance of good human behaviour and the impact it can have on flattening the curve. The containment measures being implemented are assisting, however, we must not be complacent. The real risk of experiencing the second wave of the pandemic remains; so containment measures must never be abandoned. Until we are completely safe, we will keep reviewing restrictions and, if necessary certain restrictions will still remain in place,” Mkhize said.