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Activist Anna Motase did not have to die without dignity

Refiloe Ntsekhe is the DA National Spokesperson and Deputy Federal Chairperson. She also serves as Gauteng Social Development Shadow MEC. and is the constituency head for Kempton Park and Tembisa. @refiloentsekhe

It is a disgrace that indigent patients are left to die without assistance for their stressed families – or a government-supported hospice to provide some dignity in their last days.

This year, the DA buried activist Anna Motase after she died from Aids-related complications at Tembisa Hospital. She leaves two sons, aged 17 and nine. She also has a brother, Steven. Anna had an RDP home she shared with her children, while her brother stayed in the back room. Steven does not have a full-time job and the children don’t get any grant money.

During her illness, her brother was her sole caregiver and when he got part-time jobs her kids became her carers after school. The children had to watch as their mother faded away, an experience no child should be put through.

I visited Anna and, afterwards, as I got into my car to drive home, I found myself in tears because she was alive but looked ravaged.

People in the area passing by would cross the road rather than walk directly in front of the house – a testament to the stigma still prevalent in our communities about HIV-Aids.

Steven got very little support from neighbours during this very difficult time. At one point, when he called an ambulance, he was told an ambulance could not come out as R150 was owed. So, whenever Anna suffered complications, the family had to ask a neighbour to drive her to the hospital – but she was simply sent back home to die.

One day, I visited the hospital to find out if they could refer Anna to a hospice so that qualified people could look after her and relieve the family of the pressure of caring for such a sick person. I was referred to Arebaokeng Hospice, which is about two blocks from Tembisa Hospital. I drove there and met Emily, daughter of the owner. She told me they were on the verge of closing. They were charging the Department of Health R500 per patient.

According to answers I got from the Gauteng Department of Health, there were 13,202 patients, either HIV-positive or with Aids, with 987 new patients testing positive from January to June 2019. With these numbers, I cannot understand how a hospice can be closed, or not supported. Tshwaranang Hospice in nearby Midrand has also closed, leaving only Edenvale Hospice, about 20km away.

Soon after the DA deployed Councillor Kade Guerirro to the municipal ward in which the family lived, Anna suffered further complications. The neighbour was away, so Steven called Guirreiro, who took Anna to hospital in his car. On arrival, he introduced himself to the nurse in charge as the councillor, and this time Anna was admitted. Anna spent the night in a wheelchair and, finally, in the morning, was moved to a ward.

A few days later she died, in the evening. The hospital waited until 11am the next day to inform Steven his sister had died. I fail to understand much of this.

When Steven arrived at the hospital, he was handed a black bag containing his sister’s belongings. In it were the clothes she was wearing at the time of death, along with the sheets she had soiled as she took her last breath.

Steven was asked to remove Anna’s corpse the next day. By then, her medical file had somehow gone missing.

Many questions came to my mind about Tembisa Hospital and I wondered how many Annas were there.

I asked Steven’s permission to tell his sister’s story so her death could be a lesson and a voice for the many other Annas in Tembisa and elsewhere in South Africa.

I asked questions of the MEC for Health in Gauteng, Dr Bandile Masuku, about support services for people living with HIV or who have full-blown Aids. He said a social worker was deployed at Tembisa Hospital. So, why didn’t she see Anna or refer her to a hospice? I also don’t understand how Steven could be treated so inhumanely. Why is an indigent asked to pay for ambulance service?

Building up to Anna’s death, I made multiple calls to various social workers, in the Gauteng legislature and in Ekurhuleni, pleading for help for this family as neither Councillor Guerriero or I were trained or had the resources to deal with the situation. But we could not walk away.

A neighbour said a social worker had once visited the family but left no contact number. Since Anna’s death, no one has visited. Yet the children need counselling. The youngest boy cried uncontrollably when his mother died and all Steven could think to do was send him to stay with an aunt in Soweto while we made funeral arrangements.

Hopefully, the MEC for Health will step in at Tembisa Hospital and realise the place is struggling to cope. Hopefully, he will realise that whoever made the decision to close Arebaokeng Hospice made a bad call. We certainly should not allow children to be stripped of their childhood by having to look after desperately sick parents.

Arebaokeng means “let’s heal them”, a name fit for a place that helps people shunned by society and a place where those who cannot be healed can die with dignity. DM

Refiloe Nt’sekhe is DA national spokesperson. Twitter: @RefiloeNtsekhe