The South African Medical Association (SAMA) says it supports the measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa 15 March to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. It says it supports appropriate and evidence-based measures to deal with the spread of the virus.
“Mitigation strategies are proving key in addressing the spread of the virus in many countries throughout the world, and appropriate steps such as those announced by the President will, we believe, have a similar impact locally in mitigating the spread of infection,” says Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of SAMA.
Dr Coetzee says SAMA is aware that imposing community lockdowns, limiting public gatherings to 100 people, and closing schools are drastic steps which have the potential to damage the country’s already fragile economy. These measures should not be taken lightly.
“However, we have seen that several other countries which developed heavy caseloads have implemented drastic mitigation strategies. These have depended on strong community responses, led by clear government directives. We urge the same approach in South Africa,” says Dr Coetzee.
Among the measures announced by the President are a restriction on travel to South Africa by foreign nationals – particularly from high risk countries – a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people, and increased allocation of resources to healthcare to deal with the pandemic.
SAMA says in addition to the strategies already announced, two additional steps are needed. Firstly, the Association says it is imperative that the areas – not just the provinces – of the identified cases be made known. This is a key consideration in dealing with spread of coronavirus and must not be seen as alarmist, but instead as essential information for the public.
A second additional strategy is to give priority consideration to telemedicine.
“Telemedicine has emerged as a crucial element of the response to coronavirus in many countries, and enables patients to contact health providers from their homes, and get appropriate medical advice based on the development symptoms, without endangering healthcare workers, and other patients,” notes Dr Coetzee.
She says, however, that current telemedicine guidelines of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) make no room for such consultations, and only provide for face-to-face interaction between patient and practitioner.
“In light of the extraordinary situation in which we find ourselves, we call on the Department of Health as well as the HPCSA to advocate in favour of telemedicine as one of the mitigating strategies government must employ to contain the spread of coronavirus. We believe such a move, which will be subject to all ethical rules and recommended record-keeping, is a strategically sound one, and may, ultimately, present more solutions than barriers in this fight,” Dr Coetzee concludes.