Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba. Picture: SOWETAN
Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba. Picture: SOWETAN

Two doctors working at a Mpumalanga hospital were forced into a quarantine facility in Limpopo despite already self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.

The SA Medical Association (Sama) criticised  Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba for the “iron-fisted manner” this was done.

However, her department said it was standard procedure and it would not be selective in applying its policies aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19.

In a letter to Ramathuba on Thursday, Sama chair Angelique Coetzee bemoaned the treatment meted out to doctors Taryn Williams and Claire Olivier, who both tested positive for coronavirus last week.

The doctors work at Mmametlhake Hospital in Mpumalanga but live together in Modimolle, Limpopo.

“The doctors are asymptomatic, and have, in their own words, been in strict self-isolation at [their] home since testing positive,” she wrote in the letter.

“Since becoming aware of their status, they have been contacted by yourself, and were visited by EMS personnel on Monday March 30, who performed physical checks, including checking on their vitals, which were both in range. No indication was given that the self-isolation approach by the doctors — which is a prescribed course of action once being treated positive for coronavirus — was unsatisfactory or inapt.”

Coetzee said that on Tuesday EMS personnel again arrived at the doctors’ house informing them they need to be moved to the MDR-TB Hospital in Modimolle, Limpopo, “a move both doctors have resisted”.

The hospital has been repurposed as a quarantine facility for Covid-19 patients.

“Their resistance to a proposed relocation is based on two pillars: firstly, they believe — as we do — that the strict self-isolation approach is, for now, the most effective course of action for them to follow, and, secondly, that moving them will place them in an environment which may, in fact, further aggravate their conditions while they are still clinically stable.”

Coetzee said the approach taken by the provincial health department regarding the two doctors is “heavy-handed, unfair, and contrary to the provisions which national government has stipulated”.

“We further believe that you are politicising the events for political gain, a truly troubling development. Given the iron-fisted manner in which these doctors have been treated, would it come as a surprise if other doctors either refuse to be tested, or, worse, refuse to disclose their status?”

Coetzee “strongly urged” Ramathuba to reconsider her approach to the doctors and to “rescind the court order to have them relocated, and to allow them to continue to self-isolate as they have done since Sunday”.

On Friday, Coetze told Business Day that Ramathuba had not yet responded to their letter.

“On Thursday evening we received a frantic call from the doctors saying there are police and ambulances outside their home to take them to the quarantine facility. They did not have a choice as the officials were armed with a court order,” she said.

Coetzee said Ramathuba’s approach seemingly negates that of the national government calling for “strict self-isolation instead of hospitalisation, particularly of those who are asymptomatic”.

In his address to the nation on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said people who are infected with Covid-19, but who have no or moderate symptoms will remain in isolation at home or at a facility provided by the government and those with severe symptoms will be transferred to hospitals.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize’s spokesperson, Popo Maja, said they would not comment because “this is a provincial issue”.

Ramathuba said this was an administrative matter and referred questions to head of department Thokozani Mhlongo, who explained that in order to slow down Covid-19 in Limpopo, they took a decision that anyone who tests positive will be quarantined in their facility.

“When those doctors tested positive they had to follow suit like all other patients and be quarantined in our facility, where one of our nurses and our professor are quarantined,” said Mhlongo.

“We won’t be selective when it comes to doctors who test positive. We said everyone who tests positive for Covid-19, irrespective of colour, creed or status, will be quarantined.”

Mhlongo said what was more concerning is that the doctors released their nanny who lives in a squatter camp, with her nine-year-old child, without alerting the authorities.

“They failed to exercise their fiduciary responsibility. Luckily, the nanny was tracked and found, she is under quarantine in an isolation ward in one of our hospitals ... pending her test results. It’s only then that we'll know whether the squatter camp was exposed to the virus or not.”

Mhlongo said the doctors did not resist going to the quarantine facility if there was a court order saying so, “which we were granted on Thursday”.

“Therefore, if anyone wants to remove them from the quarantine facility, it will have to be through another court order.”

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