Jean Bassett-CEO-Witkoppen-Clinc

Witkoppen Clinin CEO Dr Jean Bassett. Photo: Supplied

Dr Jean Bassett, Joburg: Thank you to all our brave frontline workers

In celebration of International Nurses Day, Witkoppen Clinic CEO Jean Basset has penned an open letter detailing the daily struggle of healthcare workers at the Johannesburg-based clinic.

Jean Bassett-CEO-Witkoppen-Clinc

Witkoppen Clinin CEO Dr Jean Bassett. Photo: Supplied

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed huge pressure on South Africa’s already overburdened healthcare system. As life-saving protective equipment runs critically low in facilities across the country and infection rates continue to rise, the lives of healthcare workers are increasingly at risk. As the battle against the virus continues indefinitely, the wellbeing of people on the frontlines people should be of utmost concern for us, as a community and as a country.

As CEO of the Johannesburg-based non-profit organisation Witkoppen Clinic, I have witnessed first-hand the incredible stress that our doctors, nurses and administration staff are under. The clinic provides much-needed primary healthcare to around 10 000 patients per month in many impoverished communities surrounding Fourways, including Diepsloot, Msawawa and the neighbouring areas. In over 30 years as a medical practitioner, healthcare workers have never been stretched as thin.

Working around the clock

At Witkoppen, we have been working around the clock, not only to screen and test for the virus, but also to keep other healthcare operations running smoothly for those who still suffer from other ailments.

One of our primary functions is the testing and treatment of HIV and TB patients, not only at the clinic, but via mobile clinics in the communities themselves. With limited equipment and dwindling supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), the people providing care in these situations are left vulnerable – risking their own safety to ensure others stay healthy.

Recent data confirms that virus has not yet reached its peak, a reality that is difficult to come to terms with considering that healthcare workers are already exhausted and burnt out.

Heavy mental and physical toll

Part of the reason is that the threat of COVID-19 is not just physical, but also takes a heavy mental toll. All over the country, doctors and nurses have removed themselves from their families, in some cases their young children, to eliminate the risk of exposure — all while enduring long hours in the most stressful circumstances.

Additionally, the lack of equipment and scarcity of necessary supplies compounds mental health concerns of health workers. Forced to make do with what they have, instead of what they need, healthcare workers are left feeling exposed, undervalued and under-supported. This in a time when they are the country’s first line of defence and should be receiving unconditional assistance from every sector.

Unprecedented crisis for our ‘first line of defence’

While doctors and nurses are trained to handle crisis and unpredictable situations, the challenge of COVID-19 is unprecedented. It has not been an easy adjustment. We are still very much in the beginning phases of this fight, and the future remains uncertain. One thing I am sure about, is that every success we have had up to now, and every success moving forward, is thanks to our doctors and nurses on the frontlines.

To all healthcare professionals, at Witkoppen Clinic and across the country, I want to extend a huge and heartfelt thank you. The people of South Africa are forever indebted to you for your bravery, your persistence in the face of a threat that is largely a mystery, and your hard work.