In its fight against COVID-19, mining companies in South Africa have contributed significantly towards bolstering medical infrastructure to treat mine employees as well as mine-affected community members.
This includes the construction of several hospitals, repurposing of existing resources and investment into securing critical COVID-19 equipment, writes CHANTELLE KOTZE.
Despite concerns about mines in South African reopening when the country moved from lockdown level 4 to level 3 on 1 June, the mining sector has been historically known for its sound medical quarantining, screening, testing and medical care infrastructure and practices – all of which have been used to treat tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS.
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As a result, the mining sector has been extremely well equipped to manage the COVID-19 crisis. The sector’s countless clinics and medical staff have helped to ease the burden on the government.
The Minerals Council South Africa has been hosting regular COVID-19 updates since June to highlight the efforts undertaken by its member companies in the fight against the virus.
In a COVID-19 update at the end of August, the Minerals Council showcased several of these initiatives, namely the ones undertaken by Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat), Impala Platinum (Implats) and AngloGold Ashanti (AGA).
Royal Bafokeng Platinum
In terms of RBPlat’s contribution, the company converted a disused change house at its Maseve mine south shaft into a 200-bed field hospital in Rustenburg at a cost of R10.2 million.
The change house, which had not been used for more than two years, is established to provide initial COVID-19 medical treatment to its employees and the surrounding communities.
The facility can cater from mild to moderate COVID-19 positive cases, supported by medical facilities and healthcare professionals as required, while community members requiring intensive care are referred to the Moses Kotane provincial hospital and RBPlat employees are referred to the Peglerae private hospital.
The 200-bed field hospital was handed over to the North West Provincial Department of Health on 1 July, and to date, 60 community members have been admitted, while 250 patients have been treated to date, including RBPlat employees.
“At no point have we had the facility operate at full capacity. But we are geared up should that be required,” says RBPlat executive for investor relations Lindiwe Montshiwagae.
By partnering with the North West Provincial Department of Health, community members are referred to the mine’s field hospital by government clinics for COVID-19 treatment, while COVID-19 positive RBPlat employees are referred to the field hospital by the mine’s medical staff, says Montshiwagae.
The repurposing included removing the existing change house infrastructure, which comprised lamp racks, turnstiles, lockers and benches.
Thereafter, RBPlat deep cleaned the facility, repaired plumbing infrastructure and upgraded electricity infrastructure, while also fixing the emergency and fire-fighting system.
In terms of construction, RBPlat built new entrances and installed doors, as well as a ventilation system. The change houses laundry area was also changed, and new ablution facilities were built.
Following the redevelopment, the RBPlat facility now boasts 2 940 m2 of floor space able to accommodate 113 male and 69 female patients in 182 fully equipped beds. The space has been subdivided into three sections as follows:
- Five wards, which can accommodate 14 patients each with a total of 70 beds
- A large hall area that has been divided into three large wards, with 108 beds
- Three smaller wards, with 22 beds
Each bed has its own television and personal lockable locker to store patient valuables and is individually screened off from other patient beds for privacy.
“There is still space to accommodate an additional 18 beds, but to date, we have not admitted a sufficient number of patients to warrant the use of these additional beds,” says Montshiwagae.
The field hospital is fitted with 108, 2 000 W infrared heaters and Sani Disc ultraviolet lights to assist with cleaning the air. Further to this, the hospital contains 36 ultraviolet light air purifying systems that are operational 24/7, circulating the air to remove bacteria and viruses. She points out that the facility is also equipped with two 1 600 kVa emergency generators.
In terms of personnel, the RBPlat field hospital is operated on a 12-hour shift, with one attending doctor and a matron available during the day.
These two personnel are on call-out when off shift. In addition, the facility is complemented by two professional nurses and four enrolled nurses.
“The enrolled nurses are qualified to administer medication as well as intravenous treatment, should it be required,” Montshiwagae explains.
Going forward, the RBPlat field hospital will be maintained at RBPlat’s cost, with the cost of doing laundry also on the account of the mining company.
The Department of Health will pay for the refilling of oxygen supply tanks, while the department will also pay medical and security staff, as well as meals (prepared off-site), medical waste handling and supply of medication.
The company has an intensive community member screening programme in place which has to date screened over 5 000 community members and its target is to do 10 000 households.
Implats has worked in close collaboration with RBPlat to commission a bulk oxygen supply system capable of supplying the necessary oxygen to the field hospital.
According to Implats group health and safety executive Jon Andrews, there is a critical need for early oxygen supply to patients, particularly those with co-morbidities, which are deemed as being high risk.
Some of the early learnings to date have shown the success of early oxygen interventions in high-risk patients. To do this, Implats collaborated with RBPlat at its field hospital in Rustenburg on the delivery of a bulk oxygen supply to the patients.
The 14-day, R1.6 million project involved installing an oxygen storage and reticulation facility capable of delivering oxygen to 56 of the hospital’s beds, with capacity to supply all these beds at full flow levels over 24 hours for ten days.
The bulk oxygen facility included the sourcing of a 4.5 t main oxygen tank, as well as smaller, mobile tanks, piping and auxiliary equipment. A telemetry system was also installed, linking the hospital to the oxygen-supplier, Air Liquide, to help it manage and maintain the oxygen levels.
The telemetry system would alert Air Liquide to low storage volumes so that these can be replenished before they run out, explains Andrews.
“RBPlat is one of our neighbours and it’s been great to work with them,” he says.
This co-ordinated collaboration with RBPlat is in addition to the company’s increase in its own medical care preparedness, which entailed increasing the capacity of its internal medical facilities.
Right from the onset of the pandemic, AGA embarked on a number of initiatives to protect both its employees and communities in which it operates, with the understanding that surrounding communities and businesses are co-dependent on one another as well as on the mining operations.
One of the initial interventions in anticipation of the imminent rise in infection rates, AGA made available two hospitals that it was no longer using to the government of the North-West and Gauteng provinces, in which AGA operates, says AngloGold Ashanti vice president for health Dr Bafedile Chauke.
The two hospital which were made available to fight COVID-19 include:
- Western Deep Levels Hospital in Merafong , Gauteng
- West Vaal Hospital in Orkney, North West
The Western Deep Levels Hospital is a 300-bed facility, that was closed a number of years ago during restructuring. The building was in good condition with the necessary infrastructure to support a fully functioning hospital and the Gauteng Department of Health opted to convert this into 175 bed ICU hospital.
In addition to this AGA also made available a 55-room capacity residence to house the Western Deep Level Hospital workers once the hospital has been completed.
Meanwhile, the West Vaal Hospital, was officially handed over to the Premier of the North West Province on 9 April 2020. The hospital is a fully equipped 270-bed, fully operational facility for the management of COVID-19 positive patients.
Over and above the company’s internal controls to prevent the infection and spread of the virus, which included the establishment of facilities for isolation of mild and asymptomatic cases, as well as the quarantining of people who come into contact with people who have COVID-19, the company redeveloped a 32-bed hospital facility in Gauteng.
This was prompted by the initial COVID-19 infection peak, in June, amid fears of a hospital bed shortage in Gauteng. The hospital facility is awaiting accreditation to treat moderate cases that need closer care and oxygen.
Chauke says that AGA will continue to work with industry peers in continuing to anticipate any further risk stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide proactive solutions to address the real need on the ground.