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Health workers strike over PPE

Limpho Sello

HEALTH workers at the country’s two hospitals for Coronavirus (Covid-19) patients have gone on strike to protest the government’s failure to give them personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them from the virus.

Nurses at the Mafeteng and Berea hospitals told the Sunday Express that they had stopped attending to patients to avoid contracting Covid-19.

“Last week, we resolved not to attend to patients due to lack of PPE,” a Mafeteng-based nurse told this publication on condition of anonymity.

“Even this week, we are still not attending to patients. Other health workers are also afraid to enter the wards. The kitchen staff just leaves the patients’ food at the door,” the nurse said. Her remarks were echoed by health workers at the Berea hospital who said they had also downed tools for similar reasons.

Nurses and other health workers first went on strike in April 2020 after the previous Thomas Thabane-led government ignored their appeals to pay them risk allowances and provide them with PPE to protect them from the virus.

The health workers, who also included doctors, anaesthetists, laboratory scientists, pharmacists and technicians and nursing assistants, had grouped themselves under the banner; Coalition of Health Professionals in Lesotho.

At the time, Lesotho had not recorded any Covid-19 infections. They returned to work that same month but struck again for two weeks last month until the government agreed to give the risk allowances and PPE.

But the PPE has run out and the nurses some of the equipment was not up to standard.

“From the 10th of this month, we had been working without the proper PPE.

“The PPE we were given is not water resistant and this put us at risk of contracting Covid-19. Some of the PPE was also of the wrong size,” a Berea nurse said.

The nurses said they government had refused to train them on handling Covid-19 patients, saying they would learn on the job.

“The working conditions are perilous. Both staff and patients are at great risk of infection, re-infecting each other and even dying because of the lack of PPE and adequate training on handling Covid-19 patients,” one nurse said.

The health workers’ coalition’s spokesperson Busa Qhala said they have asked for an urgent meeting with the Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo to discuss the health workers’ concerns. The meeting is yet to take place.

The ministry’s acting director of health services, Malitaba Litaba admitted that there was a shortage of PPE due to procurement delays.

Dr Litaba however, said the crisis would be resolved as soon as they had distributed PPE donated by the United Nations and the Egyptian government this week.

She said the ministry would also provide psychosocial support services to the health workers.

She also said she would soon visit the Mafeteng and Berea hospitals for dialogue with the health workers.

“We need to visit them, discuss their concerns and re-assure them of our support,” Dr Litaba said.

She however, accused the workers of making “unreasonable” demands, saying there was nothing wrong with the PPE they had been using all along.

“They now want the water-proof PPE just because they saw health professionals in other countries using it. But there is nothing with the PPE they have been using all along. They even want Ebola suits but that is not necessary,” Dr Litaba said.

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