EDITORIAL | Government promises are like Joburg hospital water tanks — empty
When a hospital cannot provide a necessity like water, it becomes a Petri dish where you can’t even wash your hands
“This hospital needs water.”
The cry for help comes from the Facebook post of a patient who has spent the past 36 days in Helen Joseph Hospital. This is the third time in his five-week stay that the Johannesburg public hospital does not have running water. “But there are bigger problems here than our battles to brush our teeth,” writes sports journalist Wesley Botton, whose daily updates have been republished in blog form on The Citizen’s website. “No running water means one thing. People’s lives are on the line.”
His updates from the hospital bed have been shared widely on social media and contain the good and the bad. “If you ever meet a doctor who works at a public hospital, please give that person a hug. They work too hard for too little, saving lives in very challenging conditions without enough appreciation,” he writes. Botton tells tales of doctors, nurses and patients; his writing becoming a mirror of our society: this patient was the victim of a suspected xenophobic attack, that patient was hit by a car, this patient is homeless and asked for a pair of trousers before being discharged.
These are the faces of those who have been let down by a dysfunctional local government. Not only hospital patients but also health workers, trying their utmost to care for the sick amid a raging pandemic. Not to mention the residents living in the areas around the hospitals where there was no running water. Four Johannesburg wards, two state hospitals and all those living in the suburbs of Crosby, Mayfair, Coronationville, Sophiatown, Newlands, Auckland Park and Brixton have not had running water for the past week and a half.
At the weekend, the Sunday Times interviewed a student nurse who said she could not wash her hands once during her 10-hour shift, during which she took care of 30 patients.
The burden on Helen Joseph Hospital is significant. In a functioning system, some of the patients would have been assisted at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital. But that institution has been closed since a fire on April 16 (questions have been raised about a functional emergency fire plan). Our health department has not committed to a date on when it will reopen, despite an initial promise of two weeks. One inadequacy after another puts South Africans at risk.
At Helen Joseph, patients already spend days waiting for surgery. Now, operations need to be postponed every time there is no running water. At the weekend, the Sunday Times interviewed a student nurse who said she could not wash her hands once during her 10-hour shift, during which she took care of 30 patients. Rahima Moosa Mother & Child Hospital in Newclare is in the same boat, with its frustrated CEO summarising the unthinkable: “Water has stopped coming into our hospital.”
There are many reasons cited for the outages, ranging from old infrastructure to power cuts causing water pumps to stop working. The situation is going from bad to worse. On Monday morning, further water outages were reported. It emerged that another two public hospitals — Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and Leratong Hospital on the West Rand — were affected.
SA had to listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening urging citizens to follow basic hygiene protocol in a bid to stem the rise in Covid-19 infections. That includes washing your hands — with soap and water. SA’s leadership cannot hope to be taken seriously if actions do not support words.
The water outages have highlighted a myriad problems, and actions to solve these are too few and far between. This is a local government election year where SA’s leaders are facing a huge test. Citizens will not forget whose fault it was that they could not wash their hands in the time of Covid-19.