A fleet of 100 scooter ambulances acquired by the Eastern Cape to help fight the coronavirus has been criticised as dangerous and the product of a deal which stinks of corruption.
These concerns were raised by Justice Project SA chairperson Howard Dembovsky and DA Eastern Cape Shadow MEC for Health Jan Cowley.
Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba announced on 12 June 2020 that the province had stepped up its fight against COVID-19 through the acquisition of 100 EMS scooter ambulances.
“These are not your ordinary scooters. They are specialised and have beds,” Gomba said.
“We are introducing the use of scooters because for far too long we have heard how our ambulances could not get to people in far-flung rural areas.”
“Ours is a rural province and because of its terrain, we sometimes could not get to people who desperately need medical attention, especially when it rains,” she added.
Gomba said that with these scooters, the provincial government has ensured that people in rural areas will be accessible by the health department.
The DA’s Jane Cowley took a different view to that of the Eastern Cape Health MEC.
“Patients are dying on floors in our state hospitals and frontline workers have the highest rate of Covid-19 infections in the country, and what does our MEC of Health, Sindiswa Gomba, do?” Cowley asked.
“Instead of focusing on the crisis at hand, our MEC of Health decided to launch the procurement of 100 1920s-style scooters, parading up and down the East London esplanade, while her colleagues clapped and cheered.”
“MEC Gomba is delusional to believe that these scooters will function for any length of time on our rural roads when off-road ambulances have been destroyed by them,” she said.
Cowley called for the Eastern Cape Department of Health to be placed under administration and for the deal to be investigated.
R10 million for 100 scooters
The Eastern Cape paid a total of R10 million for the scooters, which equates to R100,000 per vehicle.
JPSA chair Howard Dembovsky has questioned the legitimacy of this deal, considering the fact that the same scooters are available to purchase for $1,050 each on Alibaba.
If the provincial government had opted to purchase the vehicles from this platform instead, it would have only paid around R1.7 million instead of R10 million.
“That the identical contraption is available at alibaba.com for less than one-fifth of the price the Eastern Cape Health Department paid a local supplier stinks of corruption and/or ridiculous profiteering,” Dembovsky said.
“Surely the Department of Trade and Industry should also take a keen interest, considering that it has pounced on local retailers who have disproportionately marked things like face masks and hand sanitizers up.”
“I will not, however, be holding my breath for it to do so,” he said.
“To me, that our Health Minister and MEC Sindiswa Gomba are so enthusiastic about these things sends the clear message that the poor in rural areas are regarded as lesser human beings.”
EMS Scooters are “deathtraps”
Dembovsky said that there were a number of major safety concerns with the EMS scooters procured by the Eastern Cape Department of Health.
“I have numerous grave concerns about these things, not least is the patently obvious instability of the vehicle and the lack of reliability of the motorcycle it is attached to,” he said.
“Notwithstanding that it may have an inbuilt seatbelt to circumvent the wearing of a helmet by the occupant, the sidecar is a deathtrap.”
“It is a flat, slippery surface with no overhead or enclosed capsule protection for the patient,” Dembovsky said.
He said that even if a patient was wearing a seatbelt, they would very likely be ejected on impact in the case of an accident.
“Furthermore, if it rolls, that flimsy canopy is not going to offer no protection from crushing the patient. Shade netting is not a proper enclosure and flimsy tubular steel is not a proper roof structure.”
MyBroadband contacted the Eastern Cape Department of Health for comment, but the department did not respond by the time of publication.
Images of the EMS scooters are shown below.