Each emotional story wove together into a powerful tapestry that illustrated systematic failures of the public healthcare system. Families losing loved ones, too many people sick and dying for lack of accessible, acceptable and quality healthcare services. Mothers and babies at risk due to the shortage of ambulances, healthcare workers and equipment, and traumatic experiences at health facilities, are driving people away from healthcare services.
Commissioners Bishop Paul Verryn, Thembeka Gwagwa and Thokozile Madonko, listened carefully. They heard a grieving mother’s pain as she told of the death of her baby because she was unable to give birth in the hospital. About a brother’s unanswered requests for a post mortem report for his 21-year-old brother, who died having been misdiagnosed and mistreated by doctors. Elderly patients spoke of their difficulty getting to clinics in time to get a place in the queue, then waiting hours to see the one – overworked – nurse available. About a young woman whose friend was stabbed in a tavern and bled to death in a casualty waiting room chair.
It is clear that the systems supposed to be protecting people – health, police, education, transport and social development services – are failing.
The picture of how South Africa treats its mothers and babies was proclaimed a ‘national emergency’, with the reality on the ground a far cry from the official commitments made to reduce maternal and newborn deaths.
For individuals coping with multiple challenges and discrimination, such as adolescents living with HIV, and women living in poverty, there are often additional difficulties accessing the specific services they need. The problems can become more profound when the services require particular sensitivity to rights, such as sexual, reproductive and HIV services.
Dr Prinitha Pillay from the Rural Health Advocacy Project highlighted the plight of healthcare workers, especially those working in rural areas.
She linked the stress of understaffing, lack of medicines and equipment to a loss of morale and sensitivity of some doctors and nurses. Dr Pillay warned that the impact of insufficient financial and human resources for health were depriving poor people of their rights, and were akin to “medical apartheid”.
Public spaces, such as these where people can respectfully share experiences and seek answers, are essential. The integrity of the hearing contrasted with so many of the avoidable hardships described, which were caused or made far worse because patients were not listened to by service providers. Worse, many people highlighted they fear intimidation if they speak out. The Stop Stockouts report highlighted the sharp decrease in the number of health facilities in the Free State that were reporting to them, suggesting healthcare workers are unable to report stock-outs.
Amnesty International has made recommendations to the government of South Africa that they ensure that all branches of government are involved in the response to maternal mortality, HIV and gender-based discrimination, and develop programmes to promote safe pregnancies and deliveries, including by addressing the social and economic challenges women and girls face accessing early antenatal care. All departments are responsible, from health to transport.
At the event, a heartbroken mother spoke of her traumatic loss of her baby, because of the long wait for an ambulance. When the ambulance finally arrived, the paramedics fixed an oxygen mask over her baby’s small face. Tragically, the ambulance struggled over potholes on the poor road to the hospital and unnoticed, the mask came loose on the way. The baby died a few days later.
This story is all too common.
It is vital that local, provincial and national governments start listening to the communities they serve. I hope they respect the findings of this People’s Commission of Inquiry and commit to an integrated response to delivering the basic services they have promised to the people of South Africa. DM
Photo: Patients with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) wear masks while awaiting consultation at a clinic in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township, February 23, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly
Watch Pauli van Wyk’s Cat Play The Piano Here!
No, not really. But now that we have your attention, we wanted to tell you a little bit about what happened at SARS.
Tom Moyane and his cronies bequeathed South Africa with a R48-billion tax shortfall, as of February 2018. It's the only thing that grew under Moyane's tenure... the year before, the hole had been R30.7-billion. And to fund those shortfalls, you know who has to cough up? You - the South African taxpayer.
It was the sterling work of a team of investigative journalists, Scorpio’s Pauli van Wyk and Marianne Thamm along with our great friends at amaBhungane, that caused the SARS capturers to be finally flushed out of the system. Moyane, Makwakwa… the lot of them... gone.
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"The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology" ~ Edward Wilson