EDITORIAL | Healthcare must be newly-elected Joburg officials’ priority

The province’s hospitals have been left to rack and ruin. When will government realise lives depend on its support?

07 December 2021 - 20:50
Sewage spills through the ceiling from the casualty toilets in Charlotte Maxeke hospital in August this year.
UNACCEPTABLE Sewage spills through the ceiling from the casualty toilets in Charlotte Maxeke hospital in August this year.
Image: Supplied

“The worst that can happen is that we will be fired.” These are the desperate words of a doctor speaking out about the appalling conditions at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg. “Patients are silent because they are sick, scared and desperate for just a Panado.” His tales are hair-raising, ranging from anything to burst pipes repeatedly causing wards to flood, to the emergency ward remaining closed after a fire in April. This is all happening against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Gauteng the epicentre of the fourth wave.

The domino effect of Charlotte Maxeke, the second largest tertiary hospital in the southern hemisphere, not operating at 100% is staggering. The Cancer Alliance, a group of non-profit organisations, has compiled a list of patients awaiting treatment — at least 1,000 prostate cancer patients are waiting for radiotherapy, 500 are in need of breast cancer treatment and another 300 women need cervical cancer treatment. The approximate wait is four to six months. Those requiring palliative care have to wait for treatment between two to four weeks. It’s criminal. The backlogs have been likened to a situation “worse than Life Esidimeni”, in reference to the deaths of more than 140 mental healthcare patients who were neglected during transfers in 2016.

The surrounding state hospitals, already overburdened on a good day, have to deal with the overflow from Charlotte Maxeke. These hospitals are also falling apart. Their infrastructures are crumbling. A doctor at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg recently lamented that surgeries had to be postponed because it had no water. Doctors are trying their utter best to help patients, but their hands are chopped off without basic services being delivered to the institutions.

These wards are critical to our Covid-19 response in the fourth wave.
Adam Mahomed, head of internal medicine at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital

In an open letter to president Cyril Ramaphosa, published on News24, the head of internal medicine at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, Adam Mahomed, wrote about how staff had been doing their “utmost to ensure ongoing care for our patients”, yet they have been met “by obstacle after obstacle”. He adds: “These wards are critical to our Covid-19 response in the fourth wave.”

Mahomed seems to be pointing out the obvious — yet it also, sadly, seems that the obvious needs to pointed out to the powers that be. He speaks of “little to no substantive support” from the Gauteng provincial government and provincial departments of health and infrastructure development, nor the national departments of health and public works.

Stabilising and strengthening public healthcare should be Johannesburg’s newly-elected officials’ top priority, alongside those working in provincial and national departments. Each time Ramaphosa addresses the nation in one of his “family meetings” that started during Covid-19, he begs South Africans to take care and stay safe. But his own government’s officials “don’t care” approach tells a different story. This needs to change. Lives depend on it.

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