The healthcare system in the Eastern Cape has been under strain for some time but the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic across the region pushed the already fragile system to breaking point. One of the major issues in the region was the huge shortage of oxygen for patients suffering from the disease. As one Right to Care staff member, Abuyile Magaba, reported, “Oxygen was being taken away from patients who needed it but weren’t critical. It was instead being given to critical patients. There just wasn’t enough to go around so doctors had to prioritise. The situation was dire.”
USAID became aware through these reports of the drastic shortage of oxygen in the region and the unnecessary loss of life as a consequence. This prompted them to donate equipment and supplies necessary for oxygen provision to the region as a matter of urgency. Right to Care assisted in assigning and delivering these items to the facilities most in need in the Eastern Cape in July of this year, and the added supply provided much needed relief to the region.
As an illustration of the personal impact of this delivery, Abuyile himself became sick with COVID-19, just like many other healthcare workers, but was fortunate enough to receive the oxygen supply he needed. Abuyile became very sick after nearly two weeks with the illness, and already suffers with diabetes. He was admitted to hospital when his sugar level rose and his oxygen levels started to plummet. He says “I cannot imagine what would have happened if there was insufficient oxygen for me. I have seen many colleagues succumb to the disease.”
This provision of oxygen at a critical time in the pandemic in the Eastern Cape created a real turning point in the fortunes of the region against COVID-19. Whilst this was obviously a temporary fix for a deeper underlying issue, the gaps in the regions healthcare capacity were brought sharply into focus by these events. These gaps will now be closed through work between USAID, Right to Care and the National and Regional Department of Health.
The success in this story lies in the quick turn-around and collaborative solution finding approach of these major organisations in their pursuit of saving lives and improving access to healthcare on a large scale. In the Eastern Cape, the delivery, along with other measures taken in the region, meant that the oxygen supply never ultimately ran out and that the survival rate in the face of the pandemic has remained high.