Limpopo Health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba

General
practitioners have an incredibly important role to play in meeting many of the health
care requirements now demanded by the coronavirus pandemic, not least in the
rural areas.

“Now that we
have done a lot of testing and mass screening, our GPs know who is and who is
not infected and, critically, who is vulnerable in our communities,” Limpopo MEC
for health, Dr Phophi Ramathuba, told Med Brief Africa at the
weekend.

Many of the
doctors, she said, had been practising in the area for years and as such knew
many of the families, their individual problems and their connections: “They
know who is asthmatic, diabetic and therefore who is vulnerable and who to
quarantine.”

Ramathuba’s
first port of call has been the local Independent Practitioner Associations
(IPAs) to generate a collective interest.

“My first
approach was to Limpopo IPA’s (LIPA’s) Dr Mabowa Makhomisane, who was very keen
to get his members involved and has already started,” she said, explaining that
the individual GPs were now being put in charge of specially allocated nurses
and community health workers (CHWs) – all guided by infection control teams.

“The GP,”
she said, “becomes the gatekeeper again and very important, with the assistance
of the nurses and CHWs, in protecting those who we know are infected, requiring
incubation and even possibly ICU treatment by visiting them regularly and even
staying with them.

“In Limpopo
we have limited resources, particularly ICUs. We don’t want our people to die
because of this, but what do we do if there is a sudden upsurge in those
requiring hospitalisation? We will really need the GPs then, if only to be able
to direct those with mild cough and fever symptoms to them to reduce the load.

“GP
practices aren’t busy at the moment because of lockdown and other COVID issues
and we need the help of every free hand. Many GPs in the outlying areas,”
Ramathuba added, “have asked to work with us. When they were doing the NHI
pilot projects, they identified areas in our province which didn’t have any
GPs, so hopefully we will be able to allocate some of these GPs to clinics
serving our more remote communities.”

Returning to
ICU related issues, the MEC lamented the lack of specialist expertise in her
province and hoped that this was where the recently-imported Cuban doctors
might help: “We are in desperate need of internal medicine specialists,
nephrologists and the like. I have to agree with the minister when he said that
the Cuban doctors won’t be replacing any of our doctors,” she noted, reiterating
that there was a shortage of doctors and that, certainly in Limpopo, in terms
specialists, there were virtually none to replace.

“Don’t know what
to expect. Nobody has been in touch with us yet. The minister still has to
allocate, but I just hope that they are specialists!”