‘Inhumane’ conditions for Wits dental students after Charlotte Maxeke fire

Students demand safe and healthy training space with sufficient resources in the next six months

24 August 2021 - 11:03 By iavan pijoos
Sewage spills from the ceiling from the casualty toilets in Charlotte Maxeke hospital.
Sewage spills from the ceiling from the casualty toilets in Charlotte Maxeke hospital.
Image: Supplied

The University of the Witwatersrand's dental students have accused the institution of forcing them to conduct their training in “inhumane” and dire conditions, including sewage spilling from the ceiling.

A representative from the Wits dental students' council, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said the oral health department was moved from Braamfontein to Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in 2001.

This move resulted in a loss of resources and severe space constraints, the representative said.  

“From the beginning, it was clear that the space was insufficient, even when it was clear that the premises posed a hazard to health and safety, and would be a death trap in the event of a fire, but the cries were ignored.”

In a statement, the students said the fire that broke out at the hospital in April worsened the situation. They said they had missed three to four months of clinical training due to the closure of the hospital, “meaning when we returned, we needed a lot of clinical time to complete our academic year.”

The students said they met the dean of health sciences, Prof Shabir Madhi, on August 18 to express their dissatisfaction with the clinical facilities.

They said there was a constant smell of gas in the lab and the infrastructure is so dilapidated that wall boards under their desks fell off.

“The gas even stops working amid practicals. The sewage spills from the ceiling from the casualty toilets in Charlotte Maxeke hospital above us cannot be overly emphasised.

The shoddy working area for dental students.
The shoddy working area for dental students.
Image: Supplied

“The shortage in chairs, broken chairs, tables. The clustering due to lack of space, no ventilation, no emergency exit, no recreational space for breaks.”

The students demanded that the university create a safe and healthy training space with sufficient resources and buy a facility and repurpose it in the next six months.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel confirmed that the fire at Charlotte Maxeke hospital “severely” affected the institution’s clinical training platform and the various units based in the hospital, including the School of Oral Health Sciences.

“The university is fully aware of the situation and is working tirelessly to ensure that the academic programme is completed, that its quality and integrity is maintained, and that our students graduate with the requisite competencies and skills required to practise oral health care.

“We are engaging with all internal constituencies, including staff, students and others, to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” Patel said.

Patel said Madhi met the students last Wednesday and met final-year dental students on Saturday to discuss “critical matters”.

She said the university was also in discussion with hospital management and the Gauteng department of health to ensure that the matter is resolved as “quickly as possible”.

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