Sipho Tsamaesi (65), is a pharmacist who works for the pharmaceutical services of the City of Johannesburg as the deputy director. His department is responsible for ensuring medication and healthcare supplies are provided to over 107 public clinics in the City. 

The current pandemic has presented Tsamaesi’s occupation with the challenge of mediating the interaction between doctors and people who are sick. 

He is an essential worker who has been working to minimise the effects of the covid-19 pandemic in Johannesburg. He talks about the experiences of his team of pharmacists who have been working to reduce risk factors for sick patients during the lockdown.  

As told to Zinhle Belle

I’ve been going to work every day since the beginning of lockdown. Unfortunately, healthcare is one of those industries that can never take a break. People will always be sick and will always seek treatment.

We, as pharmaceutical services, provide medication to primary health care clinics located in informal settlements, townships and suburbs in the City of Johannesburg in Gauteng. The majority of people in the province rely on public health care for treatment, so you can imagine how many people we come into contact with, and how often we need to restock supplies. 

We’ve been working hard to reduce the volume of patients at our clinics right now so that there is enough room for patients with chronic conditions to be helped in the future. That’s why it’s essential that patients can get their medication and treat themselves from home to reinforce social distancing and in some instances, self-quarantine.

My biggest priority during this period has been to ensure that clinics have the necessary medication to treat high-risk patients. The clinics we provide supplies to screen everyone who comes in for covid-19, including our staff. It’s our goal to guarantee that clinics have enough resources to test anyone who shows symptoms. 

Surgical masks, gloves and sanitisers are enough to protect the public and health professionals from contracting the disease, but immune-compromised patients need the medication the most because they are vulnerable right now. 

In our clinics, there is currently a high demand for antiretroviral medication for HIV and Aids patients, who were receiving treatment before the lockdown. We need to ensure they are taking their medication regularly, so their immune systems don’t deteriorate.   

We’ve also been monitoring patients with high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. These are the people we’re most concerned about because they are classified as high risk if they get covid-19. If they have access to treatment then we can control and stabilise their conditions. 

I have been a pharmacist for over 35 years, however, this is the first time in my career that I’ve experienced a pandemic of such catastrophic proportions, which has infected and affected the entire world at the same time. Although I have years of expertise, which is useful at a time like this, I’ve been humbled by this experience and I never stop learning.

The national Department of Health has seen to it that adequate supplies of medicines are provided to our clinics. That’s my line of expertise and I need to be on the ball regarding that. If I drop it at any time and there is a shortage of supplies, it could affect a lot of people who are dependent on medication. 

The sad reality is that a lot of people have lost their lives to the virus already. Each week of lockdown, our pharmacists play their part by instructing people in their communities on how to take precautions. People have been coming into our clinics asking for advice on what medication we can recommend. 

South Africa is reaching a critical stage because we’re moving into winter, which means there will be more cases of influenza (flu). It’s of importance that our clinics are prepared for a surge in people who may need medical attention. 

Since the virus reached South Africa over a month ago, we’ve been busier than ever. People who are sick usually self-medicate before they go to the hospital or see a doctor. 

Pharmacists are often at the front line of healthcare and are in constant contact with sick people. Our pharmacy managers and pharmacists’ assistants continuously render service to our communities without complaint of exposure to the virus. They remain diligent and dedicated and see the importance of availing themselves as essential service providers.

My job is challenging all the time, since it requires quite a lot of multi-tasking and continuously working under pressure. Although I am in a leadership role at the pharmacy, I never abrogate the primary role of a pharmacist, which is the dispensation and delivery of adequate medication that can assist those who seek it. 

I wear the necessary protective gear, however, working daily means I still bear the possibility of putting myself and my family at risk of contracting the disease. 

We’ve reached a point where lockdown keeps being extended, and the government is uncertain of what to do next as the cases continue to grow. This pandemic is unrelenting, pertaining to destruction of human life daily. We as pharmacists do what we can to pre-empt existing symptoms that may make a person vulnerable to the virus. 

Featured Image: Pharmacist Sipho Tsamaesi is working at the front line of keeping vulnerable communities in the City of Johannesburg armed against covid-19. Photo: Provided 

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