Business Insider Edition

Netcare is preparing for a coronavirus outbreak in South Africa – with a hotline and mobile isolation units

Business Insider SA
 Feb 22, 2020, 11:05 AM
An exhibition hall has been converted into a hospital in Wuhan, February 5, 2020. (Getty)
  • As the global coronavirus death toll rises above 2 000, SA's largest hospital group is preparing for a local outbreak. 
  • Its hotline for communicable diseases has been refocused on the coronavirus, and trained doctors to treat it.
  • Netcare also expanded its mobile and transport isolation units, to enable the set up of temporary isolation treatment facilities to deal with potential coronavirus cases.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider South Africa's home page.

Amid fears – expressed by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates last week - that the coronavirus could overwhelm African healthcare, the largest private hospital network in South Africa believes it is ready to deal with an outbreak.

Gates told a group of scientists that the coronavirus is a bigger threat than the deadly ebola virus on the continent because although the death rate is not as high, it spreads far faster.

Read: Bill Gates warns the coronavirus could hit Africa worse than China, and that 10 million may die worldwide

In reaction to the first outbreak of ebola in 2014, Netcare established a manned hotline – which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - for healthcare professionals to help diagnosing patients. It also acquired protective clothing and equipment, as well as isolation units, to deal with the virus.

It now has expanded its mobile and transport isolation units, to enable the set up of temporary isolation treatment facilities to deal with potential coronavirus cases.

“The mobile and transport isolation units are specifically designed and configured to treat and transport suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients, while ensuring strict infection prevention protocols are maintained,” says dr Anchen Laubscher, group medical director of Netcare.

Netcare doctors and nurses have also been trained in the handling of coronavirus cases.

“Training is ongoing and includes practical hands-on simulation sessions involving mock cases,” Laubscher told Business Insider SA. There have not been any confirmed cases of the coronavirus in South Africa. More than 2 100 people have died from the new coronavirus worldwide.

The ebola hotline for doctors has been focusing on communicable diseases in recent years , and more than 14 000 cases have so far been handled. Currently the line can be used to detect cases of Lassa fever, following an outbreak on the continent, and a MersCoV outbreak in Dubai. But the line has also now been refocused on identifying possible cases of the coronavirus.

From the outset of the outbreak in Hubei province in China, Netcare has screened patients with “a positive travel history” to areas associated with the coronavirus.

If there is a potential risk, the case is escalated to a trained clinical team, which will liaise with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). “While further investigations are underway the patient is kept in the appropriate respiratory isolation, thereby ensuring that the risk is contained and the health of the healthcare workers involved is safeguarded,” says Laubscher.

All testing for coronavirus will be conducted by the NICD. Should a case be confirmed, the Minister of Health will be informed and will manage the communication with the WHO and media.

Laubscher believes that Netcare has now taken the necessary steps to ensure its readiness for swiftly responding to and managing any coronavirus cases should the need arise.

“Netcare, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the Department of Health are sharing knowledge on an ongoing basis, which is mutually beneficial as it ensures a coordinated response to this potential health threat,” Laubscher said.

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