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NURSES TO SUE GOVERNMENT FOR COVID-19 MESS

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MANZINI – They are sick and tired of government’s inability to serve them with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).


Following the Covid-19 (coronavirus) positive results of a nurse at RFM hospital and isolation of 10 others, nurses have instructed their union to take government to court for gross negligence.


The Times SUNDAY can reveal that the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) has already consulted with its attorney to move a court application directing government to, among other things, supply adequate PPEs to all health care workers.


Bheki Mamba, the President of SWADNU, confirmed that moves were afoot to sue the government for alleged failure to protect the lives of nurses deployed at Raleigh Fitkin Memorial (RFM) hospital and all health care workers across the country.


He indicated that they would move the urgent application this week. “We have resolved to refer the matter of PPEs to court,” he said.
Mamba pitied government’s reluctance to prioritise the supply of the protective gear for those who were at the forefront, in the fight against the disease that has killed 154 468 people around the world. The virus has infected 2 287 324 people.


The president said the infected nurse would not have contracted the virus if two cabinet ministers had accepted professional health advice rendered to them free of charge when they visited the RFM hospital a couple of weeks ago.


He narrated that nurses complained to these ministers about government’s unfortunate violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2001.
Mamba alleged that the politicians minced no words telling them that the Disaster Management Act had waived the validity of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.


He also blamed one of the country’s editors for siding with government when they called for the supply of the PPEs, even going to an extent of advising police to arrest him for allegedly advising nurses against going to work.


The president said there was an approved budget of E100 million, which they did not know how it was being utilised except for the purchase of water tanks.
He suggested that a portion of the money should have been set aside for the procurement of the protective gear for the health care workers. Mamba lashed out at Cabinet for what he described as laxity and lack of sound leadership.


He complained that neither the Ministry of Health nor Cabinet had responded to their concerns, which they reduced in writing and forwarded to them for swift consideration. He then said it was for this very reason that they resolved to pray to the court to show mercy to them by granting an Order that would force government to supply the protective gear.
As it were, he said all inhabitants in Eswatini were not free from the virus, which might be spread to them by the very people who were called by God to protect their lives.


He said people came to the hospital to recover from their illnesses, but it was a pity when they went to the medical institutions to contract viruses whose spread or circulation would have been avoided if the government of Eswatini had taken their concerns and suggestions seriously.
‘1 nurse can infect 200’
Mamba put it to Cabinet to consider the fact that one ‘nurse can infect 200 people’. It effectively meant 10 nurses have the potential to infect 2 000, he lamented.


In a population of over a million people, with 2 000 infected and looking set to spread it to others, he decried the fact that a large number of inhabitants could contract the virus and render the economy dysfunctional in the process. “Enough is enough, we can’t expose ourselves and the patients to Covid-19 just because we have a government that doesn’t want to accede to our grievances,” he said.


He said it was untrue that health care workers did not want to cooperate with government in the fight against coronavirus. “We have contributed immensely to the fight against previous viruses such as HIV. We have been there during the outbreak of cholera, measles and we offer health care service to TB patients, and many others,” he said.


He said the coronavirus could paralyse all the facilities in the country if something tangible was not done, especially because the health care system in the country was weak.
He said the man who died of Covid-19 at Lubombo Referral Hospital would not have passed away if there was medication for diabetes. “Medication in the country’s hospitals and clinics is insufficient, and the health care system is weak,” he lamented.


Mamba also complained about the impromptu opening of the shops and allowing the construction industry to continue with business when workers in most of these building companies use the same pit latrines and share tools.
The president mentioned that there were no sanitisers given to workers in some construction sites. “The virus will just spread uncontrollably in the country,” Mamba said.


Asked what they have done with the PPEs from Chinese businessman Jack Ma, Mamba responded that the protective gear should not be overused. He said there came a time when gloves, masks, gowns were contaminated and needed to be changed.  “That is why the PPEs should be bought in bulks, and there should be plenty of them,” he said.


Call for rfm’s closure


On a parting shot, he said RFM was no longer a safe place.
One of the weekly newspapers reported yesterday that 21 nurses and five doctors were chucked out of Siteki Hotel which they used as a quarantine centre for coronavirus patients.


They said they were told that government did not have a budget to pay for their stay at the hotel. They were, therefore, ordered to vacate the hotel with immediate effect.


Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said nurses should tell them where to buy the PPEs if they decide to go to court.  “We don’t have a problem at all. If they win they have to show us where to buy them. We really respect our nurses and my heart goes out to them but if they can tell us where to get the PPEs that would be fine,” the DPM said.


Masuku pointed out that the Americans were also struggling to procure the equipment in bulk. “They don’t have to go to court, quite frankly; they just need to tell us where to buy them,” insisted Masuku, who chairs the Task Team appointed to fight Covid-19 in the country.
He said going to court would be to force government to buy; “but buy where?”


He said the perception that government did not want to buy the PPEs was wrong. “Right now everyone claims to have the PPEs, but when we ask them to deliver they tell us that they are waiting for their delivery from certain countries,” he explained.


Lizzie Nkosi, the Minister of Health, commented on suggestions by health care workers that RFM hospital should be closed because it was not a safe place.
She said there was no way the hospital could be closed.

Nkosi mentioned that she would have accepted their advice if they had suggested that RFM be utilised for treatment and detection of the coronavirus. “How do you close a hospital during an emergency? Where are they going to be treated if government closes the hospital,” she wondered.
She said there was a lot they were doing on the ground to overcome all the challenges.

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