Nurses in Swaziland (eSwatini) plan to march on the Ministry of Health to protest at the lack of protective clothing and other equipment to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union President Bheki Mamba said the kingdom had minimal items in health facilities. He said even the little protective clothing available was old and was left over from the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus outbreak in 2009.
Mamba accused the Swazi Government of not telling the truth about the level of supplies available.
Nurses intend to march on Tuesday (17 March 2020).
Swaziland has only one confirmed case of coronavirus as of 16 March 2020. Two centres are being prepared to be used to quarantine patients as the virus spreads. The known case is at Lubombo Referral Hospital.
Mamba said protective clothing was not available for all staff at the hospital.
Even before coronavirus struck Swaziland’s public health service was in meltdown. The government which is not elected but handpicked by absolute monarch King Mswati III had run the economy into the ground. Medicine and equipment was in short supply because bills to suppliers had been left unpaid.
Following a visit to Swaziland in early 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported there were not enough doctors, nurses and support staff. Its report stated, ‘The country has inadequate health workforce in both numbers and skills. The distribution of health workforce is also skewed in favour of urban areas with some rural health facilities having staffing gaps. Other health workforce challenges include; retention of skilled staff due to frequent rotation of workers especially nurses; and government absorption of donor funded positions.’
WHO added, ‘The distribution of health facilities and access to essential health services create inequities between rural and urban populations.’
Prior to the WHO visit there were reports of deaths caused by lack of medicines. At least three patients using the Nhlangano Health Centre were said to have died because they could not get drugs to control their blood pressure.
There have been reports across Swaziland that hospitals cannot afford to feed patients and vital medicines have run out.
In December 2018 the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Mbabane Government Hospital was reported to be close to shut-down because equipment was not being maintained. People were dying because of this, it was reported.
In September 2018 it was reported at least six children in Swaziland had died from diarrhoea and many more were sick because the government was broke and could not pay for vaccines. It would cost US$6 for the vaccine to immunise a child.
In June 2018 it was revealed there were only 12 working public ambulances in the whole of Swaziland because the government failed to maintain them. It had bought no new ambulances since 2013.
Swaziland health crisis getting worse as budgets cut. Rural areas most affected
More deaths in Swaziland as government fails to pay medicine suppliers
Report: patients die as Swaziland government hospital runs out of cash
Medicine shortage: five die