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Wherever there is a crisis, there will be someone ready to take advantage of it. While in many cases this is perfectly acceptable, especially when it leads to entrepreneurial solutions and the development of better technology, the kind of advantage that we at Corruption Watch are concerned about is the corrupt kind.

Now, you may not think that stockpiling masks at home for your personal use amounts to corruption. It may not conform point for point to the traditional definition of corruption as being the abuse of public or private resources or power for personal gain, but it arguably is an abuse of buying power and there is certainly an element of personal gain at the expense of others.

This unethical practice puts people’s lives in danger.

My daughter, the paramedic, has told me that all of the medics in her organisation have been issued with just one N95 mask and two infection packs – the latter are the foot, head and body protection kits used when treating patients with confirmed Covid-19 infections or superbug infections such as CRE (carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae). They also have a limited supply of normal surgical masks for use with people with respiratory conditions of unknown nature or origin.

All of these safety items were freely available – but no longer. She says the company is struggling to get masks. These are people on the frontlines of the Covid-19 infection, treating people in need who may or may not be infected, and they’re not adequately equipped.

I have also heard from a source that doctors at the likes of Steve Biko Academic Hospital are having to buy their own masks and gloves at Dischem and other retailers, because the hospital has not supplied or is unable to supply. Meanwhile, retailers are also hiking their prices for the sake of the bottom line. I heard from someone who works in the same centre that a pharmacy in Blairgowrie, Randburg, charged R1 059 for five litres of hand sanitiser.

Don’t be one of those who are ensuring that only you benefit during this time. If you have masks stockpiled, donate them to EMS organisations or hospitals. You don’t need them for walking around at home, so help the emergency medical workers to do their job safely.

And my daughter says that such hoarding might backfire badly on the stockpilers, because while most will probably do so anyway, any health professional has a right to refuse to treat a patient if the appropriate protective gear is not available. The safety of medical personnel in any situation is paramount.