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How Lupus Patients Are Being Impacted By Covid-19



Zola Brunner. Photo supplied.

Zola Brunner, the founder of BeyondLupus, says lupus patients have been directly affected by Covid-19 because there is a shortage of the drugs they require.

In April 2018, South African media entrepreneur Zola Brunner was only a month away from celebrating her 25th birthday when she received a life-changing phone call. Around noon, her rheumatologist informed her that her test results had returned positive for lupus. The nightmare she had dreaded all along, quickly turned into an earth-shattering reality.

“I was perplexed because it was not a straight diagnosis, I was told my symptoms also resembled that of lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system,” she says.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease causing inflammation and pain in any part of the body. The body’s immune system, which usually fights infections, attacks healthy tissue instead. Commonly affected are the joints, skin and internal organs such as the kidneys and heart.

While anyone can develop the disease, certain people are at a higher risk. This includes women between the ages of 15 to 44, as well as people from certain racial groups and ethnic backgrounds.

“A month later [after the diagnosis], I was sitting in hospital, and had no job,” Brunner says. All the trips to hospital meant she had to resign from a job she loved, as the producer of eNCA’s BackChat, a youth current affairs TV show.

Zola Brunner working from her hospital room. Photo supplied.

She then made a decision to turn her pain into purpose.

In July that year, she started BeyondLupus, an advocacy page that has attracted a following of over 5,000 people around the world.

“I started it for two reasons. Firstly, I did not know anyone personally that had lupus and I wanted to relate to others. And secondly, I am a story-teller at heart and wanted to use this platform to give other lupus warriors the freedom to share and read each other’s experiences,” says Brunner.

Covid-19 impact on lupus patients

As Covid-19 turns the world on its head, those with low immunity need to be extra-vigilant as they are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.

For patients with autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the pandemic has also brought with it another major problem: the reduced availability of the drugs used to treat them.

In March, US president Donald Trump was embroiled in controversy when he tweeted that “hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine… hopefully, they will both be put in use immediately”.

Dr Joyce Ziki, a specialist rheumatologist in Johannesburg, says that plasmoquine/chloroquine, used for the treatment of lupus, is one of the drugs “that has been thought to prevent and or cure Covid-19 in conjunction with other drugs”.

“Plasmoquine/chloroquine was being used for prevention and treatment of patients with Covid-19 and hence it became unavailable in pharmacies in South Africa. Many patients with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis could not get the drug. The situation was worse in late March until May. Supplies are beginning to improve now,” she says, further adding that information regarding its efficacy in the management of patients with Covid-19 is currently controversial and inconclusive as studies are ongoing.

“Many members of the BeyondLupus community have come to me to tell me that they have been directly affected because there is a shortage of supply for [the drugs] and they are upset,” Brunner says.

As a result, BeyondLupus published a petition to put forward in collaboration with the Lupus Foundation of South Africa concerning the stockpiling of the drugs to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

Brunner says SAHPRA responded saying they would keep aside the plasmoquine/chloroquine medicine specifically for lupus patients.

“If you want to ensure that your medication supply is on track, you can message them or email them and they will make sure that they store it,” offers Brunner.

In a web statement, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, CEO of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), urged pharmacies to effectively manage the access to chloroquine containing products and limit any possible stockpile as “it could have important negative public health consequences”. Semete-Makokotlela further stated that the benefits as well as the potential risks of the use of chloroquine as a treatment in patients with coronavirus, are still being investigated.


South Africa Readies 1.5 Million Graves For Coronavirus Mass Burials




South Africa’s most populated province, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is preparing some 1.5 million gravesites for potential mass burials, its top health official says, as coronavirus cases in the country begin to spike.


  • Dr. Bandile Masuku, the health representative on the Gauteng province executive council, said the graves are being prepared, but he hopes they are not needed.
  • Coronavirus cases and deaths are on the rise in South Africa, and the country has now reported more coronavirus cases than any other on the African continent, which had largely been spared the severe impact coronavirus has had on the rest of the world so far.
  • But Masuku said in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Company that a major coronavirus surge is coming.
  • He expects the current spike will continue to worsen until mid-August, but if additional restrictions are put in place, the severity of the spike could be lessened with its peak pushed back until September.
  • Even in a worst-case scenario, Masuku said he doesn’t expect to utilize all the graves, which would require 10% of Gauteng’s 15 million-person population to die, but said it’s better that the province is at least prepared for all the space it could possibly need.
  • Those who are put in the graves will not have individual headstones, Masuku said; instead, there will be one headstone for large numbers of coronavirus victims.


546,318 — That’s how many deaths have been reported worldwide in the pandemic so far, according to Johns Hopkins University—3,502 of which are from South Africa.


Much of Africa has not dealt with a significant coronavirus surge like many populated areas in the rest of the world. But still, South African officials have moved to reopen many aspects of what had been a largely shut down country. South Africa is currently in “Level 3” of its reopening, which it entered into in mid-June, easing some restrictions on restaurants, casinos and movie theaters, among other businesses.


Gauteng plans to have 500 beds ready for a coronavirus hospital opening at the end of next week. Another 500 beds should be added by the end of July, Masuku said.

Nicholas Reimann, Forbes Staff, Business

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[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa



While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.

The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed 11 million with the current figure being at 12,415,672.

The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.

The death toll continues to rise globally. It is currently at 557,925.

The U.S. leads with 135,828 deaths. Brazil is second with 69,254. The U.K is third with 44,602. Italy is fourth with 34,926, and Mexico is fifth with 33,526.

China, where the virus originated from, maintains that the country’s death toll is at 4,634.

The figure of the global recoveries stands at 7,241,644.

The African continent has 545,313 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 12,503. The continent has made 266,082 recoveries.

Here are the numbers in Africa:

Country Confirmed Cases Confirmed DeathsConfirmed Recoveries
Burkina Faso89453804
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)7506301
Central African Republic (CAR)2,2227369
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)9,702684,381
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)7,1891762,317
Equatorial Guinea1,30612200
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)4904249
Sao Tome and Principe66112177
Sierra Leone1,16951680
South Africa238,3393,720113,061
South Sudan1,6932749
Western Sahara918

Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.

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Empty Roads, Occupied Minds



With a deadly virus still lurking in the streets and tougher times ahead, traders in South Africa’s colorful townships desperately look to resuscitate their businesses with creative offerings online. 

It’s almost two months into lockdown in South Africa and the country’s townships, once bustling hubs of trade, are slowly bracing themselves, with every ounce of willpower left in them, for the unprecedented reality that is ‘the new normal’.

For many, the national shutdown and closed shutters have meant lost jobs, stalled incomes and empty pockets, not to mention a deadly virus stalking them in every street and alley. The small entrepreneurs here – the lifeblood of any economy – now on their last pennies, are still hopeful their re-evaluated strategies and revamped resilience will see them through this fearful nightmare, as the restrictions ease and the townships will slowly crawl back to life again.

Behind the respectful veneer of the lockdown, some of the smaller traders hustle on illegally, under the radar, dodging police patrols and armed surveillance. They have no choice but to stick to their street-smart ways, to survive and feed their families. 

In the township of Soweto, bigger, popular establishments such as The Box Shop on Vilakazi Street – the historic stretch home to Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the country’s former President Nelson Mandela – are looking to the future with great uncertainty, and have been forced to devise alternative digital strategies as lifelines for the present.

Sifiso Moyo founded The Box Shop, a lifestyle and retail outlet with his business partner, Bernard Msimango, and today, the street it’s located on, which attracted thousands of local and international tourists every day prior to the pandemic, is eerily quiet.

It will be a while until planes of international visitors land again, so the duo have chosen to go to them – online.

“For The Box Shop, we built hype around online and have taken the entire offering that existed in our physical infrastructure into a digital platform and that has made us into an innovation space, giving us access to a global audience. We are beginning to see our products being sold in places like Switzerland and the United Kingdom and we now have started harnessing partnerships,” says Moyo.

The website was launched in May, but the bigger vision for the entity was to start as a retail outlet and work backwards into the manufacturing space.

Moyo says the coronavirus taught them two things – to adapt digitally, and to work in the value chain.

The shop now also makes face masks, sold to public hospitals and NGOs.

A short drive from Vilakazi Street is a restaurant named Sancho, selling African cuisine and founded by Thato Mothopeng, a serial entrepreneur who also founded the popular annual Soweto Camp Festival.

Mothopeng is one of the few entrepreneurs in the tourism sector without a formal degree or training, but has had a roaring business nevertheless and is quite well-known in the circuit.

Mothopeng says all SMMEs are at a standstill because business thrives on human contact. But business also needs to be flexible, he adds.

“There are opportunities in the harshest environments. I am using this time to review my strategies. I am also not panicking because the country is managing the crisis; this is an opportunity for SMMEs to reflect because our people are sober now.” 

He had to let go of a few employees and is working remotely.

Further in the township of Soweto, Thembeka Nkosi, the founder of Le Salon, has also developed her own coping mechanisms.

Her shop is shut, but people still seek her grooming advice. As per South Africa’s Level 4 lockdown restrictions, salons and beauty parlors are not allowed to operate.

“This [lockdown] is very stressful, more especially now because other businesses are operating. I still can’t make money, I still have to stay at home and not work,” rues Nkosi.

In addition to getting to spend more time with her five-year-old son, she has recently started sharing her haircare tutorials on social media.

“Now that shops are open to buy hair products, I send video clips to my clients and that brings me joy, knowing that I am still useful to them; even though it’s not making me any money yet, at least I am interacting with my clients,” she says, looking at the bright side.

Ronewa Creations is yet another small business in these parts.

Founded by Lesego Seloane and Dinah Kgeledi, the business offers landscaping services, garden maintenance and water harvesting solutions, and employs seven full-time workers. None of these services are allowed in the current phase of lockdown.

“Now that our province is still on Level 4, it is really difficult to focus because when we were working out our plans, there was so much uncertainty and we didn’t know how they could actually be implemented,” says Seloane.

She is grateful the duo have been active on social media, running a garden makeover campaign and offering landscaping designs for free.

“We are using a three-dimensional technology that revamps the look of gardens to give people an idea of how their gardens could potentially look like in the end.”

Despite the challenges, the two keep sane by spending time with family.

“If the business fails, I fail. If I don’t come out of my down moment quick, then I will fail and the entire organization fails,” says Seloane.

You can detect the determination in her voice to overcome this period, come what may.

Like many around her staring fear in the face, she has no other choice.

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