Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has reiterated that the Eastern Cape scooter project is not a replacement for ambulances. Instead, it is meant to broaden access to primary health care in the most remote areas of that province.
Mkhize, responding to a question from Democratic Alliance MP Siviwe Gwarube, said the motorbikes do not meet the criteria to transport the sick.
This issue has since caused a furore after Gwarube's comments on social media, that the Minister and Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba had made contradictory statements on the matter.
“Gwarube’s sensationalism has caused unnecessary confusion and we now wish to set the record straight,” the Department of Health spokesperson, Dr Lwazi Manzi, said.
In the Minister's parliamentary response, he said the scooter project, launched by the Eastern Cape Department of Health (ECDOH), does not meet the basic criteria for patient transport as an ambulance.
“The purpose of this project by ECDOH is mainly for widening access to primary health care and delivering of chronic medicine for the most remote areas of the Eastern Cape province,” Mkhize said.
The initiative's aim is for health workers to reach far-flung areas where patients end up being neglected because of the road infrastructure, as part of rolling out primary healthcare.
“The Minister commended this initiative and gladly agreed to participate in its launch. The Minister also issued a statement that was accompanied by the MEC’s speech seeking to give clarity on the exact use of the motorbikes and that it was not intended to replace an ambulance.
“It is the Minister who clearly and unequivocally stated that while he fully supports the intended use of the motorbikes, these motorbikes do not meet basic Emergency Medical Services protocols. This he did a month ago,” Manzi said.
The EMS regulations include minimum patient compartment space and equipment requirements.
“In fact on the very same day, the MEC also showcased 16 mobile clinics that can also be ambulances. These are fully equipped ambulances, which were parked right next to the motorbikes.
“It is clear that Minister Mkhize has at all times maintained and MEC Gomba understood that these motorbikes were not a replacement of ambulances.”
The department has since criticised Gwarube for misinformation.
“The sudden excitement created by Gwarube around Minister Mkhize’s parliamentary response is misleading and clearly undermines the fact that on top of being a politician, the Minister, as a medical doctor, understands basic EMS regulations and what is contained in an ambulance.
“The Minister will not participate in a discriminatory mentality that views poor people as only being good enough to be carried in wheelbarrows in order to reach health facilities when sick," Manzi said.
The department said it will carry on with prioritising improving the lives of underprivileged communities.
“The department will continue its efforts to improve the healthcare system which, like the rest of the world, is not perfect, is being tested and can be overwhelmed during this pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the department said it would not shy away from embracing initiatives that seek to offer health services to people, especially those who are marginalised because of their race and the areas they live in.