More than 2,500 people have died from a contagious skin disease sweeping South Africa

As omicron cases burst out across South Africa over the past year and a half, citizens are asking when will South Africa’s health system catch up to its citizens. The last word we heard on the issue is, “Never!”

The country reported to the World Health Organization that in the last 12 months, 14,062 omicron cases were reported, and in the month of January alone, there were 935.

That is an increase of 163 percent and 227 percent, respectively, from the same period in 2017.

The cases are not comparable to the 6,600 omicron cases found in Washington, D.C., the Tribune Washington Bureau reports, because nearly all are rural and clinically diagnosed in lower extremities. Fewer than two per cent have survived.

This brings the total number of omicron deaths to nearly 2,500, nearly doubling the amount counted last year.

A report released by the South African health ministry on Thursday confirmed the swelling numbers. At the country’s national Health Day event, as the health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, told the news media: “The morbidity and mortality in the high prevalence areas have increased because public service delivery of health services and private hospitals do not reach our citizens.”

Even for the vast majority of the country, Pretoria hospital is the only facility equipped to treat omicron patients. The hospital is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. The vast majority of patients must travel an extra 25 to 75 miles for care. As the outbreak spreads, patients are being transported to other hospitals at any hour of the day or night.

“The problem now is that we have to stop the patients, sometimes, lying down on the street so that they don’t get infections,” said Giglius Nkole, medical director at Eyakee hospital. “The patients are constantly lying on the street in the morning. Most of them are fed this morning, so it’s very tough. Most of them are dying.”

Clinics have been forced to suspend most operations until next week. Patients who couldn’t be seen by specialists for more than a few hours at a time are being transferred to public hospitals, which don’t have the resources to treat them all. Waiting rooms have reached capacity.

“Some of the emergency rooms have filled to capacity,” said Nqobile, a resident of Soweto township, where about a million people live. “People have waited and waited and waited. Most of them come from the farms. They’re unable to walk very far and some can’t even walk very fast.”

The shortages, which hospital staff said were originally caused by some patients being transferred due to lack of government funding, have turned into a dire situation.

Dr. Uutseli Kholiwe, who retired from the Soweto Red Cross in 2013, now cares for about 400 omicron patients and co-ordinates the Intercaident Health Network, which provides 24-hour response to emergencies. He said she receives about six omicron calls per hour. “That’s with the internet and the radio,” she said. “Now I am getting calls from the patients and I am actually feeling sad.”

“Usually, I don’t work these kinds of hours, I usually work 24 hours. And if I work seven hours in a day, it’s not the same thing. But in this case, it’s not just one person who is suffering, it’s a whole township,” she said.

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