Protecting the protectors during COVID-19

Over the last few weeks, a group of GPs based around the Atlantic Seaboard and the CBD have come together to form Masks for Medics.

The project was first envisioned by Dr Anthony Smith, who is now joined by fellow healthcare professionals, Sonia Hough, Sarahan Brophy, Lauren Lee, Julie Ettelin and Natalia Novikova.

Masks for Medics wants to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers across Cape Town and beyond — so that they can continue to provide efficient and safe care to patients during the Coronavirus pandemic. The group of doctors aims to cover Cape Town and it’s surrounds including the Cape Flats, Khayelitsha and other areas within a thirty to forty-minute drive of the CBD.

Anthony Smith explains that this project is about “protecting the protectors. There’s no discrimination between health-care workers. If you’re a carer looking after an old person or an doctor doing emergency calls. [We want to] provide the doctors with instruments and protective gear to be able to help in the care of patients in our communities.”

The idea first came about in anticipation of the surge of cases that is expected in the next few months. Dr Smith explains, “We were given the advantage of time to organise by virtue of the pretty hard lockdown. And we saw from experiences overseas the degree to which patients struggled and hospitals were overwhelmed.

“Out of that came the understanding that hospitals were probably going to procure PPE and various other items which would be used for monitoring patients and that they would be looking after doctors in ICU wards. But who was going to look after the people out in the community, whether they be doctors, care workers, palliative care workers, wound sisters, emergency personnel or carers for old people in old aged homes?”

“At the moment everyone has sources for PPE with equipment coming in in dribs and drabs. But in the event of there being a disaster situation, there’s going to be pressure and that’s what we’re preparing for.

In order to prepare for the surge, it is imperative that healthcare workers on all levels are equipped to care for patients — and not just at clinics and hospitals. There are various reasons for this.

Firstly, it is predicted that hospitals are not going to be able to deal with the high number of patients who require care — there will be insufficient space, and facilities will be overwhelmed. Secondly, COVID-19 positive patients at home can be with family whereas they often feel isolated in hospital. Thirdly, for healthcare workers (working in both hospitals and in communities) to deliver effective care and to keep up their morale, they need to be kept safe and prioritised.

The PPE that Masks for Medics is looking to provide includes items such as masks, visors, sanitiser, gowns, thermometers and pulse oximeters, which Dr Smith explains “tell you what your oxygen saturations are, which is one of the most vital items required to monitor whether people are deteriorating or not.”

The group hopes to provide PPE based on healthcare workers’ needs in any given situation, whether medical-grade or entry-level PPE is required.

Masks for Medics is also a disaster management fund, which will be used, as Dr Smith says, “to procure in a systematic way, and then really provide in a systematic and diverse way to healthcare workers who are most needing across the board.”

While this project arises out of adverse circumstances, Dr Smith says that the need for collaboration between healthcare professionals has broken new ground: “Family doctors who previously wouldn’t have communicated with each other are now uniting and having boundaries broken in ways that couldn’t, six months ago, be anticipated on any level. So, it’s kind of united us as a group to work together which historically isn’t something that’s happened.”

Moreover, the team is “invigorated by this because it really provides a challenge where we can all make a difference, and where it provides an opportunity for us to really do something worthwhile to truly help people, and to help navigate a very uncertain environment, so I think it’s really full of opportunities to change some of the aspects of the healthcare system which don’t work so well, to something that maybe works a little bit better.”

The group also encourages other healthcare workers to reach out if they want to come onboard. Dr Smith adds, “If people want to be involved, if they are out there and representing healthcare facilities at whatever level and they want to be in touch with us, it would be good to link up. Because we’ve just begun really.”

For more information, contact Anthony Smith on 082 468 4569.

By Jamie Uranovsky

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