By Doctor Tshwale
It is almost two years since the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of Covid-19 as a pandemic.
As a key measure to prevent the spread and infections in greater numbers to avert overwhelm and collapse of the health system, in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a level 5 State of Disaster Management lockdown in the middle of March 2020.
These measures literally meant the total shutdown of movement and economic activities in the country, with predictions that it might lead to severe consequences, and indeed lots of businesses ceased their activities and a substantial number of jobs were lost.
This led to an increase in people who needed state support, and government introduced the R350 grant and many other. With hindsight, do we think South Africa has succeeded in managing the pandemic compared to other countries in the world, in terms of scale of infections numbers, epidemiological and clinical control and death rates?
The pandemic galvanised all the health-related institutions in the country to a common focus, including private business, to provide guidance on protocols, protect life and safe livelihoods.
The level of coordination and co-operation in between and among institutions and levels of authorities instituted a new face of South Africa, demonstrating that possibilities of success are huge, if and only we could focus and work together.
This, notwithstanding the loss of loved ones in many families, and South Africa being the most affected by the pandemic in Africa; and is the only country with inward/outward movement of people through the busiest airport in Africa.
In this context, its success would be measured against the developing and developed countries. As of last week, South Africa stands at 3581359 million cases registered with a recovery level of 3 411 555, derived out of 22024246 tests conducted, and daily reporting of fewer than 5000 cases.
Compared to the developed countries, these regions report the highest weekly case incidences per 100 000 population with the European region at 765.8 cases per 100000 population) and the Americas with 597.9 new cases per 100 000 population.
The highest numbers of cases were reported from the US with 4610359 new cases, a 73% increase; France 1597203 new cases, a 46% increase; the UK 1217258 new cases, a 10% increase; and Italy 1014 358 new cases a 57% increase. The UK has registered 153202 deaths since the outbreak, the US-registered 852 334 deaths, France 125 413 and Italy 142590, compared to South Africa’s 94177 deaths reported.
These numbers, much as they take cognisance of population sizes among countries, reflect the diligent management of the pandemic as it impacts the citizens in each of the countries. These figures occur with these developing countries having acquired or purchased at an early stage huge amounts of vaccines, breaking the global supply value chain to the disadvantage of the developing and the underdeveloped countries.
In comparison, South Africa’s State of Disaster Management lockdown has brought better fruits, and resulted in the sustainability of the health infrastructure without collapse, controllable levels of infections up to the current period, way under 30000 a day as tested at any given wave, and a relatively low death rate.
The acquisition of vaccine, though started with a bit of storm, was ultimately managed properly with the current acquisition of sufficient vaccine and capacity to administer the doses, both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, including the boosters.
While the trajectory of vaccination is mired with anti-vax messages couched in unfounded conspiracies, just 29.4million doses have been administered and 16.4 million people are fully vaccinated.
This number is far off the required number of South Africans who must vaccinate for the nation to reach the required immunity to curtail further infections. However, as initially planned, the older age group, who are the most vulnerable in society (above 60 years), and those who have co-morbidities, have responded positively to the call for vaccination.
This further accounts for the slight decrease in the number of hospital admissions and fatalities recorded a day. The youth remain doubtful of the efficacy of the vaccine, despite the fact that the vaccines are safe and protective of risks posed by coronavirus.
It is overall the immunity that will release the country from the threats of the coronavirus and its mutant variants, and allow the total lifting of lockdown restrictions.
There’s an appreciation of the concerns and demands that the youth have, that their demands are of socio-economic nature and require urgent attention. Job creation and opportunities are very much in tandem with the lifting of the State of Disaster lockdown and fully opening the economy.
As coronavirus began its spread globally, the Department of Health and its requisite entities came to the fore to execute their mandate. The combined effort demonstrated the professionalism we possess as a country to manage health emergencies, the expertise sitting in the likes of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, National Health Laboratory Services, SA Health Products Regulatory Authority, SA Medical Research Council, private laboratories, public and private hospitals, and faculties of health sciences in universities.
* Tshwale writes in his personal capacity.
** Tshwale is a Media liaison officer in the Ministry of Health.
** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.