Maverick Citizen

The two-year delay in finishing the cath lab in Port Elizabeth is putting lives at risk

The two-year delay in finishing the cath lab in Port Elizabeth is putting lives at risk
Elmarie van der Merwe Brynard with her son Joshua. ( Photo: Donna van der Watt)

Dr Helen Malherbe from the NGO, Rare Diseases SA, has been spending lockdown putting out fires as patients with rare diseases, many of them children, have been sidelined by hospitals and medical personnel while resources have been directed to fighting Covid-19.

Construction was still ongoing at the site of the new cathlab at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital this week.. (Photo: Theo Jephta)

Malherbe this week said more delays in completing construction at the catheterisation laboratory in Nelson Mandela Bay constituted a violation of patients’ rights to healthcare. Meanwhile, one of the doctors who left the Eastern Cape Department of Health after waiting for more than a year for it to fix the equipment she used to treat heart patients, has decided to make another plan.

The completion of the laboratory at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital has been delayed by administrative bungling and the lockdown. It broke down in October 2018.

Of the 60 children waiting for treatment, Malherbe said, a few had already developed pulmonary hypertension, a life-threatening condition, and many had been diagnosed with failure to thrive.

To compound the problem, many patients with rare diseases had been sidelined by medical services during the outbreak.

Children born with cleft lips and palates could not get surgery as their surgeries were considered to be elective.

“The cortisone that our lupus patients use was also used for patients with coronavirus. There have been stockouts… Many patients have been scared to go to the hospitals because of the outbreak,” she said.

“What is happening in the Eastern Cape is very serious. We will take this up with the National Department of Health.”

Dr Adele Greyling, who became the first paediatric cardiologist to specialise in electrophysiology in Africa in 2018, has also started an NGO to help children who need serious cardiac intervention.

Greyling left her job at the Eastern Cape Department of Health after waiting for more than a year for the cath lab, where she worked, to be fixed. They wanted to prevent this from happening again, she said.

The Thanda Heart Foundation was created to help children access specialist services, including heart surgery and interventions for heart rhythm disturbances. The eventual plan was to set up and run a privately funded specialist cardiac facility for children at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital that would include accommodation for children.

Meanwhile, the children’s parents have no other option but to hope and wait as their children, many younger than a year, get sicker by the day.

Elmarie van der Merwe Brynard’s son, Joshua, needs cath lab intervention within the next weeks as his condition is placing an increasing strain on his body.

“This has been one of the worst times for us,” Van der Merwe Brynard said. “When we went to see his cardiologist last week, I was very nervous. He is already on anti-clotting medicine and I am very worried that this virus also causes bloodclots.”

The department’s communications director, Siyanda Manana, this week said the delays in opening the cath lab were caused by problems with the contractor appointed to do renovations before the new equipment was installed. The new facility would likely open in November. DM/MC


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