Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Friday, 25 January 2008

South Africa hospitals hit by power cuts

Newspaper title "Power cuts" beside traffic lights not working in South Africa

Staff at two hospitals in the South African city of Durban tell the BBC's Alice Lander how the current power cut and shortages - known as load shedding - are affecting them.


When the lights go out in the theatres it really is black.

Once or twice when the generators haven't kicked in, we have had to get nurses to shine torches - down into a patient's abdomen for example - to try help the surgeon see what they're doing.

Power is like oxygen, it's essential for any half-modern economy
Goolam Ballim
Standard Bank Group

If the power went off and our generators didn't work, all our patients would need to be ventilated.

We would have to allocate one nurse for each and every patient and they would have to take over the breathing requirements for the patients because all the ventilators would go off.

Some of the machines do have batteries but that would only last between three and four hours.

The patients are all also on infusions that rely on electricity and most of our infusion sets are old and do not have batteries.


We cannot always rely on these generators and our back-up systems because once a patient comes in and we have him on a life-support system, he needs to be monitored regularly... and if the power goes off then we are lost.

We would not know how to cope with that.

That patient lying on a support system would die, within minutes, if we couldn't get back-up to the relevant equipment.

It is the most crucial aspect for us as an emergency department.


When I got to work on Monday, there was no power.

South African medical volunteers
The possible lack of power is worrying hospital staff

I got a call from theatre from the doctors wanting to know how long it would last.

We enquired and it was actually from 0800 till 1000 in the morning.

But the doctors were quite understanding because they knew it wasn't just the hospital, it was the entire country being affected by load shedding.

On Tuesday it went off at 1400 local time and came back up at 1600 local time.

By that time, most of the procedures were completed in theatre but it did affect us again on Wednesday morning.

The municipality in this area was out so they swapped us onto another supply and since then we haven't been affected. It's a major relief.

This load shedding is a worry and a concern because this is a hospital we're talking about.


Last week we were preparing supper when the lights went off. We had to use the gas stove - we have to have a substitute power because we have so many patients that we have to feed.

We can't just give them sandwiches.

And even at home this load shedding is giving me so many problems because I have my elderly mother and father to look after.

If we buy food and then there's no power to keep it fresh in the fridge then it just goes off. So we have to just throw that food away.

The same happens here at the hospital if there's no power.


Air conditioning units will have to be switched off to save power
The continuing power cuts will affect daily life across South Africa.

It [load shedding] really makes you angry when you get home and have to have a bath in the dark.

We work long hours here and then when we go home, it's all dark. Last night, I had to wait until 2230 local time to be able to have a bath.

You don't even feel like eating because there's no lights.


The load shedding by Eskom [South Africa's power supplier] is a worry to all of us, you know, it's a worry because when it happens it could cause problems at the hospital.

Not all the units here at the hospital are actually connected to emergency back-up power supplies.


My worry is if our generators were not to work when we needed them - when the power goes off because of this load shedding.

If it was to happen it would be the first time that it has happened and it would be a real disaster.

Everything else would also stop because we would have to be doing everything manually - ventilating the patient, etc.

It would be so straining for the nurses and we do worry that with all these cuts, one day it will happen.


If the power was to go off with my mom here, I would be so worried.

And very angry because like this morning she was in theatre... if the lights had gone off, what would've happened?

Because I don't think that these hospitals always have a back-up plan.

What's the guarantee that everyone is going to be safe?

There's no guarantee and no-one is prepared to take responsibility.

Everybody says the government is apologising but it is a bit too late for apologies.

It's a bit too late especially when there's people's lives concerned here.

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