SAMHS assists in Tshwane cholera outbreak

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As local and national authorities attempt to establish where and how cholera broke out, killing more than 20 people north of Pretoria, the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) via an area formation headquarters rolled up sleeves to ensure on-the-ground assistance.

This saw over 300 litres of potable water delivered to Tshwaraganang Children’s Home in Unit 7, Temba, in the same vicinity as Hammanskraal, the apparent epicentre of the waterborne disease’s appearance in Gauteng.

At the same time, military healthcare practitioners are assisting nursing and medical staff at Temba’s Jubilee Hospital with treatment of patients presenting cholera symptoms. The formation communication staff officer Lieutenant Mamoserwa Molefe reports 229 affected patients at the provincial medical facility since 17 May. Twenty-three of them were moved to other hospitals in the Tshwane metro.

On the infectious disease, which to date has made its presence known in Gauteng and Free State, SAMHS advises cholera is a severe diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae shed in stools of infected people. Cholera remains a global threat to public health.

Its symptoms include severe acute watery diarrhoea with symptoms showing anywhere between 12 hours and two or more days. Cholera affects adults and children and can kill within hours if untreated. The majority of those infected have mild or moderate symptoms, with a minority developing acute watery diarrhoea and severe dehydration.

According to the latest data, 23 people died since the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, while 77 patients were admitted to hospital in Tshwane. Free State recorded two cholera cases in Parys with a further six from Vredefort and the death of a 33-year-old woman.

The SAMHS regularly assists government departments and municipalities with healthcare services. Most recently, in March, SAHMS healthcare practitioners were deployed at hospitals nationally as determined by the National Department of Health during strikes by Nehawu, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union. Over the last 15 years SANDF military health personnel have been deployed at hospitals around the country in the wake of strikes. As one example, in 2018 the SAMHS was deployed to North West’s Mafikeng to assist the provincial health department following a strike by healthcare workers.

Other SAMHS support was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic under Operation Notlela, and during 2017 when the SAMHS assisted with autopsies in Gauteng due to a backlog caused by labour action. In June that year, the SA Military Health Service played a leading role in disaster management when the Health Centre South Coast in Oudtshoorn provided humanitarian assistance and preserved human life during the Knysna fires.

Healthcare practitioners also provide healthcare to external missions, such as Operation Mistral in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where SAMHS doctors treat civilians and soldiers as part of their deployment to the United Nation’s peacekeeping mission there. The SAMHS also supports internal operations like the border safeguarding Operation Corona, and was involved in disaster relief efforts following the flooding in KwaZulu-Natal in early 2022.