JOHANNESBURG – Patients and workers were trapped after a roof collapsed at Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke state hospital on Thursday, an incident that highlighted the funding shortages in South Africa’s public health system, officials said.
The roof caved at the hospital reception area as construction workers were trying to seal a leak after a heavy storm, officials said. Five people suffered minor injuries and it was not clear how many people were still trapped.
Two of the injured were patients, two were construction workers while one person was a hospital staff member.
The hospital, one of South Africa’s biggest, is nicknamed Joburg Gen and is used for academic purposes due to its proximity to the University of the Witwatersand.
“We’re not sure how many people are trapped. At the moment the rescue team is on site clearing the debris as fast and as safely as they can,” Gwen Ramokgopa, the head of the provincial health department, said at the hospital.
She said contractors “were working to seal the roof because it was leaking and the structure caved in.”
Television footage showed rescue workers trying to remove rubble and steel pipes to try and reach those trapped by the debris as heavy rain pounded the South African commercial capital.
State hospitals in South Africa have been struggling with persistent underfunding for staff, equipment and facilities.
The roof collapse comes amid public outrage at the provincial health department over the deaths of at least 94 psychiatric patients who died after being moved from a licensed home to unregistered facilities.