When the power goes off during load shedding, it is a scary moment for Unako Kewana. The 18-year-old from East London depends on electricity to breathe properly.
She breathes with the assistance of a device that supplies oxygen. When the power is off, she has to reduce the amount of oxygen the device delivers or it runs out of oxygen within about 15 minutes.
She does not have backup power.
Kewana was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease four years ago. She has to be connected to oxygen all the time.
Unable to leave the house
Her doctor advised her to quit school. Kewana does not travel or go outside her mother’s Mdantsane home.
“It’s important for those with low oxygen to stay plugged in at all times,” she told GroundUp.
During recent load shedding, she has had to call an ambulance almost every day to help her breathe. “It becomes a life threatening situation,” said Kewana. When the lights go out, she gets panic attacks.
“My life is at risk,” she said.
Kewana says she cannot afford a solar panel or generator on her monthly disability grant. Her mother, Nontobeko Kewana, is also dependent on a social grant after she suffered a stroke in 2016. The trip to Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, for checkups or for emergencies, costs R200. “I don’t always have the transport money to take her to the hospital.”
The danger of load shedding
Professor François Venter is the director of Ezintsha, a public health research institute at Wits University. “Load shedding is a serious problem for some patients,” he said. “Not only for those with lung disease who rely on oxygen and nebuliser devices at home, but also for people who receive dialysis at home.”
“I cannot imagine the fear people dependent on failing health systems must feel,” Venter said. “They can’t buy their way out of trouble. This government relentlessly fails poor people.”