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Aurum doctors join national COVID-19 response

Aurum doctors join national COVID-19 response

A team of Aurum doctors is using their expertise to advise clinicians at the coalface of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Drs Regina Osih, Senior Technical Expert; Mpho Maraisane, Technical Director: Clinical Services; Mamothe Makgabo, Technical Specialist and District Clinical Advisors Nomcebo Nene and Zonke Mlokoti-Fikeni, are part of a group of doctors providing potentially life-saving guidance through the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) clinician’s hotline. 

“As a trained infectious disease consultant, I wanted to lend my skills to where they could be most useful in this difficult time. We train for this eventuality and many colleagues would have gone through their entire careers with not ever experiencing it. However much you train, read and practice, nothing prepares you for a real-life pandemic,” said Osih. She has had mostly calm callers who merely need reassurance that they are doing the right thing.

The experience has been different for Nene. “Initially there was a general sense of panic and confusion amongst the clinicians, now the calls are more about management of infected patients.”

Makgabo also took some panicked calls. “Some of the doctors are overwhelmed by the new knowledge that is always changing with a lot of unknowns. But it’s encouraging to receive calls from clinicians because it means that they have the best interest of the patients at heart,” she said.

Makgabo is also in charge of recruiting and coordinating the weekly rosters for all the doctors volunteering from various organisations. They initially started answering calls from NICD headquarters in Johannesburg but have subsequently started taking the calls remotely since the lockdown started.

 For Maraisane, this is about country duty. “Being in public health, what better way to assist the wider public than by equipping a frontline clinician who in turn directly manage members of the public seeking medical care? It’s like a ‘hub and spoke’ model. I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity. It has widened my scope immensely,” she added.

This was echoed by other team members.  Makgabo said; “I am doing it for my beloved country, for my people, our communities. I remember the Hippocratic oath that I took which states that I will do good and not harm. I believe in ploughing back into society and this is my contribution.”

The team’s work at Aurum has prepared them to operate the hotline.  “Some of the principles like infection control, remain the same. In my day to day work I offer consultation and guidance to our staff and Department of Health doctors and nurses,” said Makgabo.

To prepare for their role, they were trained on COVID-19 specifically by Dr Ann Matthews, Head of the Outbreak Response Unit at the NICD. Nene said they also get constant updates. “This a novel virus and everyone is doing their best to figure it out using NICD and WHO guidelines. All the clinicians working on the hotline are in a chat group where we support, guide and update each other daily.”

Mlokoti-Fikeni, said this training goes a long way in alleviating the pressure of advising clinicians who look to them for absolute accurate information. What keeps her motivated is the knowledge that each call contributes to the country’s fight against the pandemic. “Clinicians are doing great under the circumstances.”

With their focus at Aurum on TB and HIV, the team is concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on people living with TB and/or HIV. “This has allowed us to step up our messaging to patients so that they are informed about COVID-19, prevention methods and how important it is to continue taking their treatment,” said Mlokoti-Fikeni.