Masks for Medics – a disaster management initiative

Top L-R: Dr Lauren Lee, Dr Sonia Hough, Dr Anthony Smith. Bottom L-R: Dr Natalia Novikova, Dr Julie Etellin, Dr Sarahan Brophy


By Dr Lauren Lee and Dr Anthony Smith

It was only nine months ago that the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in China and the world as we know it abruptly changed. Less than four months later, on 4 March, we in South Africa had our first positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

As GPs working in the community, it was imminently clear that the simple task of visiting and examining a sick patient would now place us and our families at high risk. But it was not only doctors who would be at risk of contracting COVID-19. The entire framework of healthcare workers (HCWs) would be at risk: doctors, nurses, carers, physios, OTs, psychologists, social workers and funeral undertakers. How would those HCWs not affiliated to large hospitals or organisations access the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep themselves safe? Who would care for our communities if we were sick?

In trying to answer these difficult questions Masks for Medics was born. Our self-defined mandate is to raise funds to procure medical-grade PPE and provide it to these community-based HCWs throughout the Cape Town Metropole. This includes gloves, varying masks, gowns, visors, and sanitiser. When handing over the PPE, we aim to train these HCWs in the safe putting on, removal and disposal of what we give them; much of which is reusable.

Since Masks for Medics launched in mid-May, we have been astounded at the enormous need for protection and support throughout a wide range of healthcare setting. Old age and residential facilities, homes for disadvantaged youth, carer agencies, The Muslim Burial Association, The Chevra Kadisha, and so many individual physiotherapists and OTs.

We also working with Ikamva Labantu to provide PPE to their social workers and carers so their elderly projects can restart. Along the way, we identified an additional need for monitoring equipment such as thermometers and pulse oximeters, which we are now providing. Our application process is seamless, and all requests are risk stratified and pass through our ethics committee if needed.

The enormity of this initiative could not be achieved without our phenomenal team. We, together with Dr Sonia Hough, Dr Julie Etellin and Dr Sarahan Brophy, and the tireless help from Amanda Zar, Suzy Davies, Li Protheroe and Jaco Janse van Rensburg have given life to Masks for Medics.

Masks for Medics has recently embarked on a magnificent sister project! COVID-19 patients who have been admitted to ICU, high care, ERs and the general hospital wards are alone and scared. Their loved ones feel helpless. Through a generous donation from Maverick Telecommunications, we have provided 20 tablet devices to various hospitals throughout CT; Mitchells Plain hospital, Khayelitsha Day Hospital, Heideveld CHC, Groote Schuur ICU, DP Marais, Melomed Gatesville Hospital and Douglas Murray Home. They have 20G of data preloaded and are being used for patients to communicate with their family; and sadly, to say goodbye before they are put on a ventilator.

Without exception, every time Masks for Medics hands over PPE, the relief and gratitude for what this protection confers is palpable.

Dr Anthony Smith and Dr Lauren Lee are members of Mensch, an NGO that supports Jewish change makers bringing their knowledge, skills and commitment to social justice to all in South Africa. Contact to join the Mensch Network of change makers.

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