Horrifying details and images have emerged showing the disturbing conditions patients and nurses are forced to live and work under during South Africa's Covid-19 pandemic.

A BBC investigation has exposed two hospitals in Port Elizabeth where surgeons are acting as cleaners, and unborn babies are dying in overcrowded and understaffed wards.

Only two infectious disease doctors are available for seven million people, with Livingstone hospital being described by doctors and nurses as "like a war zone".

Blood and other medical waste is seen spilled over floors and surfaces, and are not being cleaned up.

Advertisement

Rats were photographed inside hospitals drinking patients' blood off the floor.

Rats were photographed drinking blood. Photo / BBC
Rats were photographed drinking blood. Photo / BBC
Nurses have been forced to act as cleaners. Photo / BBC
Nurses have been forced to act as cleaners. Photo / BBC

Patients' welfare has been badly impacted with some being forced to fight over oxygen and ventilators.

With key members of staff including cleaners on strike, nursing staff and surgeons have been forced to clean up the hospital, one doctor claimed.

Several doctors at Port Elizabeth's Dora Nginza Hospital have been left deeply traumatised after the maternity ward became overwhelmed, the BBC reports.

At Livingstone Hospital, patients are sleeping "under newspaper" while there is a lack of PPE gear, despite it being a designated Covid hospital.

"Doctors scrabbled to do the most urgent of surgeries, portering, scrubbing the floors, working with one or two remaining nursing staff. Matrons were washing linen," one doctor wrote by email.

Hygiene standards have been hard to maintain. Photo / BBC
Hygiene standards have been hard to maintain. Photo / BBC
The basic functions of the hospital have been overwhelmed. Nurses have had to do their own cleaning and items are left unwashed.
The basic functions of the hospital have been overwhelmed. Nurses have had to do their own cleaning and items are left unwashed.

"Every day I come to work in fear," said a senior nurse who had just finished her shift.

"The [infection] numbers are going up. Every day we've got chaos. There are a lot of pregnant women all over the wards," said another nurse.

Advertisement

A maternity ward at Port Elizabeth's Dora Nginza Hospital became so overwhelmed that several mothers and infants died.

"I was personally involved in the delivery of two dead infants and know there were more. This is very unusual. To have several mummies and babies dying in one week in one hospital is totally unheard of and unacceptable," said one medic.

Both hospitals have been hit by both an influx of patients and a lack of staff.

While comparatively few South Africans have died of Covid-19 - 4,346 - case numbers and daily deaths are rising sharply.