Ten new ventilators have been delivered to the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha and Livingstone in Port Elizabeth by the US embassy, premier Oscar Mabuyane has said.
The two hospitals received five ventilators apiece.
In a statement, Mabuyane said the US embassy had confirmed the installation of the first batch of 10 ventilators donated to the two hospitals.
“An additional support of 40 ventilators will be dispatched in the next week.”
He added: “The South African National Defence Force military health officials [recently deployed to the province] have concluded their quarantine and are active in the field.”
Speaking to DispatchLIVE, health MEC Sindiswa Gomba’s special adviser, Dr Bevan Goqwana, said the ventilators were a welcome addition and came at a time when Mthatha hospitals saw dramatic increases in Covid-19 admissions with patients “running short of breath”.
“We needed the ventilators desperately because people who have come to the hospital died of respiratory failure,” Goqwana said.
“Ventilators were normally only found in ICUs.
“So, we’re trying to place them in spaces that are not in ICU rooms where there will also be oxygen points, for when they get to the hospitals and they have complications in breathing [and] start desaturating [when a patient can’t maintain maximum oxygen].”
Goqwana was not sure how many ventilators there were at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital.
He said it would prove a tall order to have ventilators in other hospitals in the OR Tambo region because some of the facilities did not have anaesthetists but relied on private anaesthetists.
Goqwana could not say how the ventilators would be rationed to cater for OR Tambo, which had pockets of densely populated areas and had recorded 8,923 Covid-19 cases by Wednesday.
“All hospitals should have a ventilator and they should be using the number of Covid-19 cases in regions to determine how many ventilators a hospital gets.
“If they do that and you find King Sabata Dalindyebo has the highest numbers in the region, it should get more ventilators.”
He said hospitals in Qumbu and Tsolo, both in the OR Tambo region, should also have their own ventilators.
“If that happens [that smaller hospitals get their own ventilators], there are two things that are going to be problematic — there are no anaesthetists in the hospitals, so they end up referring them to the big hospitals.”
He said some of the smaller hospitals in OR Tambo had ventilators, but could not use them without a private anaesthetist being called in.
Pressed by DispatchLIVE on speculation that ventilators had resulted in Covid-19 patients dying in other countries, Goqwana said there were several reasons patients could die when on a ventilator.
“With regard to this virus, there are two theories. One is called the adult respiratory syndrome, which makes them unable to breathe.
“The other theory is that this virus damages the pulmonary veins [which] can’t take the oxygen when it’s there, and as a result your oxygen saturation drops.
“That theory says if you ventilate such a person, you will make his alveoli balloon without them doing what they’re supposed to do, and if you do that a person will die even before they die of Covid-19.”
In his statement, Mabuyane said the Development Bank of Southern Africa had also come on board with a “basket of services” to assist the province.
These included provision of PPE for screening and testing units; laboratory services for improved testing and diagnosing sick patients; 120 specialised isolation cubicles with beds and ventilation systems to prevent cross-infection from isolated patients; and the provision of ventilators for “non-invasive delivery of oxygen on patients that have moderate to severe Covid-19 disease”.
The Solidarity Fund will pump an additional R75m into the province “to purchase critical equipment”, Mabuyane said.
By Soyiso Maliti – DispatchLIVE