Mkhize said while the spotlight is on COVID-19, communities must continue to get access to treatment for other ailments.
“We have noticed since there were reports of excess deaths, we are concerned that the further away people are from large centres and hospitals they tend to be reluctant to move quickly if they think they have mild flu symptoms and yet these can be devastating to those who are senior citizens and have comorbidities.
“We also want to encourage those who have other conditions to continue to use our hospitals. When we say we want to give focus to COVID-19 we are not saying we are not treating other diseases; they are just as important as any other.”
The Minister’s comments follows a report by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) which revealed that by the second week of July, the country had recorded 17 000 excess natural deaths.
Excess deaths are over and above the expected number of deaths.
“It must not sound like we are saying we only treat COVID-19. We are treating everything. We would like you to continue to use our hospitals. They must not fear to visit our hospitals because of COVID-19,” said Mkhize.
The Minister made the call during the second leg of his two-day visit to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to assess its state of readiness for the province's impending surge in COVID-19 cases.
Day two saw the Minister visit the rural parts of the KwaZulu-Natal province.
“I am quite comfortable that there is adequate provision for beds which we will need should the surge materialise in higher numbers. In this case we believe that there will be enough warning if the numbers are increasing so we that we can roll out some additional facilities,” he said.
With KZN set to overtake the Western Cape in a matter of weeks for the second in ranking of COVID-19 cases, Mkhize said the focus will turn to the province to ensure its readiness.
“We are expecting that the numbers will increase in KZN and we are going to be focusing quite strongly into the province just to make sure that any challenges can be acted upon. What we have learned in the past few months is that there is no perfect plan. You can put up a plan and when the epidemic hits, it changes your plan and you must be agile,” he said.
Although there is no anticipation that there will be very sick patients, the Minister said as a precautionary measure, the province is equipped with extra availability of oxygen to stabilise patients when necessary.
“One of the things we have also learned is the need for the early introduction of oxygen which we have now been putting up in many of the areas,” said the Minister.
To assist KZN manage its surge, Mkhize advised the province to replicate the bed bureaus measure as was done in Gauteng, to assist it to determine bed availability.
Bed bureau is an administrative centre that determines the availability of beds at various hospitals across a province.
“We are comfortable here that there is a good understanding both at a provincial and district level of the pressure that is coming and the need to respond swiftly to those kinds of situations,” said the Minister.
Preparing facilities for COVID-19 and beyond
KZN Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said the approach taken by her province is to invest and refurbish dilapidated health facilities to assist with COVID-19 and beyond the pandemic.
“We decided to look at all our facilities whether they are being utilised or not and invest in some of them. This is one of the facilities that has not been utilised in Madedeni for a while. It used to be a nurses home. We have converted it into an isolation space but with this investment we are putting in, after COVID-19 they will be able to go back and utilise it as a nurses home.
“This is the approach we have taken across the province to say let us invest and renovate what we can and where we could not, we made temporary structures,” said Simelane-Zulu.