On Sunday, among patients treated by Dr. Suhayl Essa at the Hillbrow Clinic in downtown Johannesburg, an AA 6-month-old baby was shot in the head in a crossfire. Later that day, four foreigners arrived within half an hour. They were stabbed in the chest on suspicion of xenophobic violence. Then a man was hit by a rubber bullet and his eyeballs almost hung in his eye sockets.
“I feel that the citizens of this country have lost their humanity to their compatriots,” said 28-year-old Esa.
During his 14-hour shift, Essa could hear the crackling of gunfire outside. After each salvo, a new wave of patients comes in—many of them are drunk and violent.
“Nothing can prepare me for what is about to happen,” he told Al Jazeera on Thursday. “It’s like a complete war zone.”
Since the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma last week, the deadly unrest in parts of the country has put pressure on the health system that is already responding to the continent’s worst COVID-19 crisis-this crisis More than 65,000 people have died.
In Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces affected by the riots, ambulances, pharmacies and health centers were looted. Because commuting has become too dangerous, many health workers are unable to go to work.
Others sleep in the workplace, worrying about violence in the community. Due to roadblocks, some morgues could not clear the dead. Hospital resources have been pushed to the limit.
Essa said: “To be honest, I don’t understand how the health sector responds to this new wave of patients, whether it is militiamen arresting and beating looters, or people being caught by police trying to contain these rioters.”
“We are already understaffed. We are almost out of oxygen. There are not enough beds. Due to the pandemic, we have COVID patients waiting in the hospital corridor for two days to be admitted.
3. The team had to use our armored ambulance Mfezi to respond to the call to transfer patients and staff last night. We beg the community to stop attacks on caregivers and EMS vehicles so that we can provide services to those in desperate need. pic.twitter.com/MK32C6XnU6
— Official_GautengEMS (@GautengEMS) July 12, 2021
The death toll may increase
Health authorities have described the violent acts that led to at least 117 deaths and more than 2,200 arrests in two provinces as “super spreaders”.
But Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KRISP laboratory in KwaZulu-Natal, who is responsible for sequencing about half of the coronavirus genome in Africa, said it is too early to tell whether this is the case.
“A large-scale robbery may be a super-spreader incident. But at the same time, many people have been staying quietly at home. At present, to be honest, we don’t know what impact it will have on the spread of the virus,” he said.
“All we know is that it [the unrest] Disrupted vaccination sites and diagnostic laboratories. It also disrupted many medical services and oxygen transportation in hospitals, so we wouldn’t be surprised if we see a rapid increase in deaths. “
South Africa has been trying to roll out the vaccine fast enough, even before Zuma was imprisoned in the early hours of July 8. Due to the riots, many state-run and private vaccination centers were temporarily closed, which further increased the difficulty.
Earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned: “Our vaccination program has been severely disrupted while gaining momentum.” “This will help us consolidate what we have already experienced in the economic recovery. The ability to see some progress has a lasting impact.”
The South African economy contracted by 7% in 2020, largely due to COVID-19 restrictions and falling external demand. The rising number of cases forced the government to enter a level 4 lockdown last month, banning all gatherings-adding another illegality to the current unrest. The unemployment rate is at a record 32.6%, which is one of the countries with the highest inequality rate in the world.
“For many communities already plagued by poverty and food insecurity, the period of COVID-19 is particularly devastating. What the COVID lockdown does is to increase inequality,” Lizette of the Institute of Security Research in Pretoria Lancaster said.
“If we look at the many areas where robbery and general violence occur, these places are traditionally vulnerable to public violence-shops are often looted or foreigners are targeted. Communities in these areas are particularly vulnerable when tensions increase. Hot spots shouldn’t shock many people.”
The economic losses caused by the recent unrest will further exacerbate the impact of the pandemic—especially for some of the least wealthy countries in South Africa.
Ramaphosa said on Monday: “Although these may be opportunistic predatory behavior driven by difficulties and poverty, the poor and marginalized are the first to suffer the damage that is currently taking place.”
The number of soldiers deployed to quell the unrest has reached 25,000, and reserve personnel have been called to reach this number. Until their tasks are completed, health workers will continue to work on the cutting edge.
In the painful experience of the clinic, Essa recalled two patients who arrived at the same time, both of whom had severe bleeding.
“They brought me a person who was almost dead and another person who was stabbed in the chest but I thought could be saved. I don’t think I have time to resuscitate those who have left.”
Esa had to tell the news to the family of the deceased. They quickly pointed their fingers at the young doctor, tried to rush to him, and were stopped by security. The brother of the deceased then broke into the treatment room and caught a glimpse of the corpse, angering the others waiting for treatment.
A battle ensued, and the two sides beat each other, blood splattered. The clinic is in chaos. The overwhelmed police did not arrive within an hour and a half
Essa was eventually escorted out of the clinic by the police, and although he showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, he has returned to work.
Within a week, his determination gradually recovered.
“Yes, we have riots. Yes, we have thugs. But I do think I have a good reason to get up every day to go to work and do my job. This is because there are still outstanding South Africans who need my help,” He says.