With guns blazing, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has hit back at the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) criticism of the Eastern Cape's controversial medical scooters which, according to Mkhize, were never intended to replace ambulances.
Mkhize's response to DA MP Siviwe Gwarube's written parliamentary question, revealed that the scooter project that the Eastern Cape health department launched, did not meet the basic criteria for patient transport as an ambulance. Instead, he said the purpose of the project was to widen access to primary health care and deliver chronic medicine in remote areas of the Eastern Cape.
Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said the motorbikes would be used by health workers to reach far-flung areas where patients end up being neglected because of the road infrastructure.
News24 previously reported that Gwarube said the "scooter scandal" was yet another indication of the ineptitude of the Eastern Cape health department leadership.
But in a statement, Health Ministry spokesperson Lwazi Manzi said they could only say Gwarube's comments were made "out of sheer ignorance" and that Gwarube failed to read Mkhize's 13 June statement, or that they were "intentionally made as part of cheap politicking".
"Therefore, the sudden excitement created by Gwarube around the 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. Hence, his 13 June statement clearly states that basic EMS protocols would not allow for this motorbike to be an ambulance," Manzi said.
"However, if Gwarube and her party think that black people in rural areas do not deserve primary health care or even an opportunity to be transported to the nearest road or clinic, using the motorbikes in cases of emergency and where an ambulance cannot reach that village because of road infrastructure, then so be it. 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 added.
Manzi said it was clear Mkhize always maintained that the motorbikes were not a replacement for ambulances.
She also said Gwarube's mentality and attitude were "the very reason" why prioritising improving the lives of communities was so imperative.
"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. While the minister and Department of Health continues to fulfil its constitutional mandate to provide health services to South Africans, we will take new lessons, we will fix what is not correct. We will also not shy away from embracing initiatives that seek to offer health services to our people, especially those who were marginalised and seen as undeserving because of the colour of their skin and the rural areas they live in," Manzi said.
She said Mkhize was still waiting for Gwarube's constructive input on how she thinks the spread of Covid-19 can be contained.