Covid battle: bullets are flying

Covid battle: bullets are flying

MASERU-“THERE are bullets flying.”
These are the words of Liketso Mochochoko, a doctor on the forefront in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

With beds full at some hospitals, no breathing machines and lack of expertise to deal with the virus amid a surge in numbers of infections, medical experts are treating this as a war.
Bodies are piling up at mortuaries, and the country is in panic mode.
Health personnel such as Dr Mochochoko are putting their lives on the line to try and save the nation from a pandemic that has brought the entire world to its knees.

He admitted it’s an uphill task.
“There is an influx of patients coming here,” said Dr Mochochoko.
Beds at Berea Government Hospital, where he works, and which has been designated a Covid-19 centre, are fast running out, Dr Mochochoko said.
As a result most patients, especially those not exhibiting life-threatening symptoms, are being asked to return home and manage their illnesses from there.

Doctors at the hospital are worried about the high number of deaths.
Dr Mochochoko said some patients arrived at the centre showing mild symptoms but suddenly deteriorated.
Some die, leaving doctors frustrated and depressed to the extent that they are now asking for counselling sessions, said Dr Mochochoko.
On Friday alone, five people succumbed to the virus at the hospital.
Lack of enough manpower to deal with the emergency has compounded matters, he said.

“There is no requisite skill to handle the pandemic. There is also no adequate equipment,” he said.
“This is a pandemic and we never trained for it,” Dr Mochochoko said, adding, “We only got training on the job.”
When Berea Hospital was designated as one of the quarantine centres in April last year, the government pledged to furnish the hospital with Intensive Care Unit (ICU) facilities.

But that ICU is not functioning properly, Dr Mochochoko said, adding that the hospital had no ventilators despite the dire need.
He says people whose health is deteriorating at the centre have to be helped to breathe with the assistance of ventilators.
“So, there are no ventilators here,” he says.

When the country began to register an upsurge in Covid-19 cases last year, Berea Government Hospital was chosen to deal exclusively with pandemic patients, while some wards were to be used for baby deliveries.
Mafeteng Hospital has also been designated to handle Covid-19 patients.
Dr Mochochoko says the hospital has 11 beds for confirmed cases and 16 for those awaiting results of tests, although the hospital has a capacity to take 60 patients.

For him, this could just be the start of a looming, much bigger crisis if people continue to be complacent and do not practice preventive measures such as social distancing, wearing face masks and washing hands regularly with soap under running water.
“People are dismally failing to keep the basic protocols of the Covid-19 prevention. People are putting the masks on their chins instead of covering their noses and mouths,” he said.

Cases in Lesotho spiked during the festive season and Dr Mochochoko attributed the surge to thousands of migrant Basotho workers who were returning home from their workplaces in neighbouring South Africa for the holidays.
“Many of them were not screened when they entered the country,” he said.
Porous borders make it easy for thousands of Basotho to cross into the country without using official ports of entry.

“They infected those in the villages that they were staying together with during the Christmas holidays,” he said, warning that unlike when it first started, the virus is now also affecting younger populations instead of just elderly people.
“The elderly who have underlying conditions were most vulnerable at first, but today the youths are also affected,” said Dr Mochochoko, noting that many Basotho now know of someone close who has succumbed to Covid-19.
“It’s becoming really dangerous,” he said

Dr Mahali Ntšasa of Mafeteng Government Hospital said the institution is struggling to cope with the situation.
“We are physically and emotionally strained,” she said, noting that cases are increasing “every day”.

Dr Ntšasa says their major problem is the inadequate beds for patients.
“Our beds are full,” she said, adding that new patients were streaming in everyday but the hospital cannot accommodate them all due to lack of space.
The hospital has 44 beds, which have been separated for the confirmed cases and those awaiting test results.
She says the hospital has been provided with oxygen, medication and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Since Covid-19 is a pandemic that people only began to know last year, doctors and other health workers are still learning more about it, she said.
“Experts are still researching it,” she said, emphasising that the most important detail to note at the moment is that there is no cure for Covid-19 yet.

Vaccines are also yet to reach Lesotho.
With the continuous research published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Ntšasa said health professionals are able to learn new information and skills that they apply to deal with the disease.
Like other experts, she fears lack of adherence to prevention measures could spell doom for the country in the near future.

Dr Kabelo Matjeane of Mokhotlong Government Hospital said health workers are overworked and feel strained.
Working in Mokhotlong is strenuous because it is the only hospital in the district, said Dr Matjeane.

With more people trekking to the district because of big projects like Polihali, which falls under the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), the risk of virus transmission is getting higher.

Mining companies are also attracting more people to the district.
The hospital entered crisis mode when essentials ran out during the festive season as Basotho traveling from South Africa through the Sani Pass brought the virus with them. Many people from Mokhotlong work in South Africa – a Covid-19 hotspot – and traditionally travel back home for the festive season.

“So this was inescapable,” Dr Matjeane said, adding that the hospital has since received replenishments of essentials such as oxygen.
Health Ministry spokesman Tumisang Mokoai says they are aware of the crisis the health workers are facing.
Mokoai says the minister and his deputy together with their experts being visiting health centres across the country to assess the situation on Monday.
He said the decision followed a sharp surge in deaths and infections across the country.

He says the purpose of the trip is to find out how hospitals could be assisted amid this crisis.
“We are really on the ground,” he says.
Mokoai says people were taken by the festive mood and did not observe Covid regulations.

He says the people who work in South Africa came in large numbers without being tested as they entered the country.
That was bad because they came from a high-risk country.
“This is not for the ministry alone or the government,” Mokoai says.

He says it is the responsibility of everyone to ensure the disease is beaten.
He says the politicians are busy now politicking about this pandemic while they were supposed to join hands and see how the nation could be assisted.
His advice is that the politicians should use their resources and power of word to tackle the disease.

Majara Molupe

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