Over 28,000 health workers are spread across nine provinces in South Africa. Some go door-to-door, noting people’s travel stories, temperatures and other risk factors. Others, especially in the dense and poor communities known as townships, have set up dispensaries where participation has been high.
Only South Africa has done so, said Salim Abdool Karim, a member of the country’s pandemic working group, referring to the scale of the country’s effort.
Two million South Africans out of a population of 57 million have been screened, according to the Ministry of Health. Tens of thousands of people have been tested, which would not have been the case otherwise. South Africa has more than 3,400 confirmed cases, the highest number in Africa, but his government sees this as a result of aggressive testing. More than 125,000 people were tested on Tuesday.
Other countries, such as China, Cuba, Ethiopia and India, have deployed large numbers of health workers to carry out home checks or inspections, but South Africa is the only country to do so nationally and with the intention of collecting data on who is most at risk and who should be tested.
In a country where many do not have their own cars or money to pay for public transport, many here are grateful for home checks and mobile clinics.
They did not sit and did not wait for Corona to come to them. They went there head on, said Eunice Ratlhagane, 55, who is unemployed and lives in a township of Krugersdorp, just outside Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.
Around her, however, was a scene that an aggressive response to health care could not correct. Despite a continuous foreclosure, in which people should only leave their homes for essential reasons, rows of stores were open. The children played tag. The traffic on the street was busy.
The high attendance at mobile clinics demonstrates the desire of South Africans to be part of the solution, but the inability of many to stay at home reflects widespread poverty.
Right now, I have to make sure my stocks are selling and I have enough to feed my family, said Peter Pooe, 55, who owns a Spaza store, a South African version of a corner store. He supports the strategy of governments because he thinks that many underestimate the pandemic.
But I don’t know if it will work, because a lot of people here are less concerned with lust than just wanting to survive, he said.
A quarter of South Africans live in townships with intermittent running water, often built right against sparkling areas with swimming pools. It is one of the most unequal societies in the world. In Swaneville, the township where Ratlhagane and Pooe live, they have to fetch water from a tank, which makes it difficult to have enough to cook, wash and wash their hands. Many live in rooms with many other people.
Health experts have warned that in these countries, closures can cause more harm than good, and even lead to social unrest. This makes testing, surveillance and quarantine even more essential. South Africa is working to test 30,000 people every day by the end of this month, according to the National Health Laboratory Service.
We are proactively reviewing and recommending the tests to get an accurate picture of what is going on in the field and to get an idea of the geographic map of the spread of the virus, said Lwazi Manzi, spokesperson for the ministry. of Health.
For the moment, South African curve doesn’t seem to be growing exponentially, as many had feared. Cases increased rapidly for about 10 days, but new cases have not exploded since the imposition of the lockdown and the deployment of mobile health teams. Hospitals easily cope with their cases.
What South Africa has done is absolutely impressive, said John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control. We have to stop being afraid of lust and do things that work. This is what they did. They receive data, which will be necessary to unlock the country.
Members of the pandemic in South Africa task force commended President Cyril Ramaphosa for heeding their warnings from the start, even if the foreclosure would have enormous economic costs in a country already in recession. Ramaphosa also received praise for nationwide televised speeches in which he did not mince any words communicating the severity of the virus, and called on South Africans to sacrifice the present for the future.
Besides poverty, South Africa is also home to one-fifth of the world’s HIV and TB cases. The collision of these older pandemics with this news has put health experts on alert, given the high probability that serious immune and respiratory illnesses will lead to an increase in the number of deaths from Covid-19.
The experience of these pandemics gives South Africa a head start in some respects, said Karim, the task force member who is also one of the world’s leading experts on HIV. South Africa uses a tuberculosis screening system called GeneXpert, which has also developed a covid-19 test that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved last month. South Africa will receive these tests in the coming days.
Trace, test, diagnose, trace contacts, isolate, treat the same basics for HIV, TB and convection, he said. The only problem with Covid is that we don’t have treatment.
In Swaneville, people trying to get out of it knew that lack of treatment was not the only problem. Even if they took the virus seriously, they could see others, sitting together, sharing a beer. In the mobile clinics, the nurses said they were on the mockery side, as many saw the disease as affecting only the wealthy who had the money to travel abroad.
Attendance at the Sunday clinics was high, however, and the nurses said they thought the public was starting to see it their own way. People felt a sense of camaraderie, sharing the experience of poverty and the pandemic.
I didn’t have water last week, but my neighbor gave me [some]. We just have to share and remember: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, said Pooe, using a sentence from a South African language often translated as I am because we are.
Bearak reported from Nairobi.
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