Two doctors in Limpopo are living in fear after they were allegedly forced into quarantine at a medical facility by the Limpopo government on Thursday after testing positive for Covid-19 on Sunday
The Limpopo health department is seemingly ignoring recommendations by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) by taking the decision to quarantine anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in a health facility.
“NICD guidelines remains guidelines and not a rule of thumb or a prescription,” Health MEC Phophy Ramathube said on Friday.
The chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), Dr Angelique Coetzee, in a letter to Ramathube, said this approach could have “unintended consequences” as it could create fear and resistance among those who could potentially be infected.
“Given the iron-fisted manner in which these doctors have been treated, it would come as no surprise if other doctors either refuse to be tested, or, worse, refuse to disclose their status.”
Taryn Williams and Claire Olivier – the two doctors who were forced into quarantine – were allegedly accused by Ramathuba of bringing the virus to Limpopo and said they “should have stayed where they were”, despite them living in the province.
The two were asymptomatic and had been self-isolating at home since testing positive, where they were being monitored by healthcare staff of the Limpopo health department.
There had been no indication their self-isolation – the prescribed course of action for patients who test positive for the virus – was inadequate, Coetzee said.
Yet, on Thursday, emergency services arrived at their door and informed them they needed to move to a hospital in Modimolle, she added.
Both doctors resisted, believing their self-isolation approach was effective and it would be risky to be placed in an environment that could aggravate their conditions.
In the letter to Ramathuba, Coetzee condemned their treatment.
“The resulting court action you embarked on to force these doctors into a provincial facility, and the manner in which these doctors have been treated by yourself and certain healthcare staff of the province, is most unsettling,” she said.
Coetzee added, according to the two doctors, Ramathuba had said Covid-19 cases were brought to Limpopo by more affluent people who had travelled outside the province, and informed them they were responsible for bringing the virus to Limpopo.
“You [Ramathuba] informed them that they had brought the virus to the people of Limpopo, and that they should have stayed where they were at the time, despite their explanation that they work in Mpumalanga but live in Limpopo.
“Further to this, you informed the doctors that since they don’t work for the Limpopo provincial health department, they should go back to where they are employed. They were further told they can self-isolate anywhere they want, just not in Limpopo.”
Coetzee explained in the letter that it was misleading of Ramathuba to suggest the virus was linked to economic status and ignored available research.
“This approach also politicises the spread of coronavirus at a time when the exact opposite approach is required.”
By forcing the doctors into quarantine at a medical facility, implied that proven methods of self-isolation was ineffective, she said.
“What is of greatest concern, however, is that your approach seemingly negates that of national government which is calling for strict self-isolation instead of hospitalisation, particularly of those who are asymptomatic.
“At a time when beds, equipment, PPE, medicines, and human resources are at a premium, surely those who can self-isolate within the parameters should be allowed to do so?”
Coetzee added this approach by Ramathuba would have “unintended consequences”.
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) April 5, 2020
In a statement on Friday, Ramathuba slammed the letter by the SAMA, saying the health department had taken a decision to take everyone who tested positive to an isolation site due to some patients not complying with the “rules of self-isolation”.
“The government has taken these kinds of decisions due to the appreciation of the material conditions on the ground considering the rurality and the limited resources in the province to do whatever it takes to arrest the spread of this virus before it can reach the ICUs and the wards.
“To this end, the department took a decision that this can be done by screening, testing, quarantining and isolating all those who need to without fear, favour or prejudice,” Ramathuba said.
She added it was a concern that doctors were being uncooperative “to the extent that they even expose their community to a possible super spreader”.
Coetzee, however, told News24 this was an abuse of power.
She said she would speak directly to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize to resolve the matter, adding she had also approached SAMA’s lawyers.