As 70 SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) practitioners ready for another round in the ongoing fight against an ever-encroaching COVID-19, concern about the well-being of those now on “active service” in Gauteng comes from two quarters.
The first is the country’s largest military trade union – Sandu (SA National Defence Union) – whose national secretary Pikkie Greeff urged military health service professionals to ensure they use “the opportunity” to be vaccinated, reminding union members inoculation is voluntary. This follows a national defence force directive issued in the wake of Sandu threatening legal action if soldiers and others in uniform were exempt from vaccination against COVID-19.
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais had stronger words for the command structure of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in the wake of the Gauteng deployment, which began on Monday.
“It is common knowledge SANDF staff are not allowed to be vaccination beneficiaries of government’s general vaccination programme. Deployment of the medical task group (MTG) to what is the latest COVID-19 hotspot nationally is concerning because it could be inferred military medics are being sacrificed by standing in for government failures as regards non-delivery of essential services – vaccinations in this instance,” Marais told defenceWeb, adding this now changed with an instruction from the Surgeon General (Lieutenant General Zola Dabula) for Department of Defence (DoD) staff to register for vaccination.
“Our soldiers have been and remain essential frontline workers who should be on the receiving end of the same treatment as healthcare workers. I’m aware of SANDF personnel who succumbed to COVID-19, including a senior officer stationed at 1 Military Hospital.”
Earlier this week it was announced police officers, the military and prison wardens are the next group of essential workers to be vaccinated in July, after teachers, due to be vaccinated this month. “The SANDF has its own military health services and will be vaccinating their own members,” said National Health Department deputy director-general Nicholas Crisp
Marais’ concerns have gone to Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in his efforts to ensure government “acts in the best interests of our soldiers and national integrity”.
Since the start of Operation Notlela, the SANDF contribution to government’s state of disaster to fight the coronavirus last April, there has been no indication of deaths or COVID-19 positive numbers in the force.
Making known the Medical Task Group deployment on Monday, the SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) indicated it would start “immediately after the necessary government processes and protocols are finalised” without mentioning any specifics. The MTG assembled at SAMHS Training Formation in Thaba Tshwane ahead of deployment to two Gauteng hospitals – both in Soweto.