Thousands of South Africans are avoiding health facilities, shunning life-saving treatment out of fear of being infected by Covid-19 and being harassed by police. Even mobile clinics that provide HIV, TB and contraceptive services have reported a huge drop in clients – possibly because all health services are being associated with Covid-19.
“Head counts at some Johannesburg clinics are down by between 30% and 70%,” says Professor Francois Venter, an infectious diseases doctor at Wits University’s Faculty of Health Sciences.
“These clinics are delivering absolutely essential services. We are going to spend the next six months cleaning up this catastrophe – the lack of contraception leading to unintended pregnancies and increased demand for terminations, diseases from lack of immunisations, untreated diabetes. We are likely to see a wave of mortality linked to HIV and TB. The HIV and TB programmes have been doing well and we could lose all that progress,” adds Venter, who is also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
Periodic clinic closures when health workers test positive for Covid-19 has fuelled community fear of being infected if they venture into clinics. The health department “has observed this legitimate fear” people have of health facilities, says Popo Maja, the department’s director of communications.
“We are developing messaging to encourage people to observe the Covid-19 preventative measures when accessing health services – wearing masks, sanitising hands and physical distancing. The managers at our facilities have also been requested to ensure that stringent infection control measures are adhered to throughout the facilities.”