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KZN cancer patients' right to healthcare has been violated: SAHRC

19 June 2017 - 14:34 By Yasantha Naidoo
Cancer cell. File photo.
Cancer cell. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

A damning report by the South African Human Rights Commission has found that the KwaZulu-Natal department of health has failed its cancer patients.

The 68-page SAHRC report found that "the delays in the provision of‚ and in some cases the denial of‚ oncology services to cancer patients‚ some of whom are destitute and in need of health care‚ affects them in a most fundamental way”.

“It poses a serious threat to the patients' lives and the enjoyment of other rights. It cannot be denied that the rights to life and human dignity‚ which are intertwined in our constitution are intertwined in this matter."

The investigation by the SAHRC followed a complaint lodged by the DA's Dr Imran Keeka‚ a member of the provincial legislature‚ in February last year. He complained that a dire staffing crisis regarding oncology specialists and other medical staff‚ coupled with insufficient and non-functioning oncology machines and delays in treating patients was adversely affecting cancer patients in the province.

The damning findings which will be released in full by the DA on Monday afternoon‚ found that there was "no doubt that the shortage of staff and non-functioning equipment adversely impact on the rendering of oncology services at the two hospitals".

The SAHRC has recommended that KZN premier Willies Mchunu investigate the role of embattled KZN health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo - who is already facing calls for his removal - in the current oncology crisis.

Interviews with patients and staff at the affected hospital revealed that there has been an increase in the incidence of cancer in the province and that on average patients wait for about five months before they can be seen by an oncologist and about eight months for radiotherapy. This means they are unable to detect cancer at an early stage or delay its progression‚ despite World Health Organisations findings on the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

The Cancer Alliance told the commission that cancer cases and subsequent deaths can be reduced by prevention activities‚ but only when these prevention activities are carried out.

The commission was of the view that the department "failed to allocate necessary and appropriate human and technological resources for oncology services".

"Accordingly the department of health both nationally and provincially failed to take reasonable measures to progressively realise the right to have access to health care services in the KZN province."

The study found that while the investigation was confined to a few key hospitals‚ they believed that a comprehensive probe was required throughout the province and reserved the right to initiate such a probe.

The department of health was ordered to immediately repair oncology machines and within 10 days devise a plan to deal with the backlog of patients and staff crisis. They were also ordered to provide a detailed list of patients awaiting treatment as well as a list of patients who had died while waiting for treatment‚ including cause of death.