South Africa: COVID-19 - Doctors Released From Isolation in Limpopo TB Hospital

Two doctors, who tested positive for Covid-19 and were forced by the Limpopo government to spend their isolation period in a Limpopo multi-drug resistant tuberculosis hospital, have been released. They will now self-isolate at home, which is legal under the national disaster regulations.

The doctors had been working at Mmametlhake Hospital in Mpumalanga but live in Modimolle, Limpopo. On 2 March, Doctors Claire Olivier and Taryn Williams were moved to isolation wards in the Modimolle Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis Hospital following a court order pursued by Limpopo Health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba.

Last week, GroundUp reported on the strongly worded letter written by the chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) Angelique Coetzee to the Limpopo MEC for Health Phophi Ramathuba regarding the doctors' isolation.

The move sparked outrage among professional bodies including SAMA, the Progressive Health Forum (PHF), the South African Private Practitioners Forum (SAPPF), and the Independent Practitioners Association Foundation of South Africa (IPA). In a joint statement, they demanded that the President and Minister of Health overturn Limpopo's decision.

They criticised the government for its "on the hoof" decision-making by provincial and national health officials, and for "poor institutional management", which it said posed a greater risk of compromising the safety of patients and health professionals.

The group also called for "an executive directive that prioritises PPE [personal protective equipment] for all frontline staff". They want healthcare managers that fail to protect staff with adequate equipment to be held liable for dismissal. They defended healthcare workers who refused to work without such protection, saying that the state's PPE procurement programme was a "danger to frontline medical personnel".

The statement also called out the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) for failing to prepare for the Covid-19 crisis by increasing its capacity, demanding that the President "end any board and management dysfunction at the NHLS".

On Wednesday, following an appeal heard in the Limpopo High Court, the doctors reached a settlement with the province, and were released. The doctors' release was welcomed by SAMA. According to a press statement, SAMA "remains concerned about the manner in which [the doctors] were treated initially, especially considering they strictly followed NICD and national government regulations once they tested positive".

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