Hospital cuts off life-saving dialysis for asylum-seeker

Ethiopian asylum seeker told Joburg state facility will no longer treat her

12 May 2019 - 00:00 By SHAIN GERMANER

The same doctors who told an Ethiopian asylum-seeker that she would die without regular kidney dialysis have now dealt her a potentially fatal blow.
Last month they told Alem Bazabe Ereselo that, after three months on dialysis, she would no longer receive treatment at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.
"You are not a South African citizen and you do not possess verified documents pertaining to refugee status or permanent citizenship awarded," Ereselo said the hospital administration told her.
She turned to the courts for help. On Friday last week, her urgent application to compel the hospital to provide treatment was removed from the urgent roll in the high court in Johannesburg to allow the department of health and the hospital to finalise their response papers.
The lawyer representing Ereselo, Robin Lenahan of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), said this was only approved on the understanding that Ereselo will continue to receive treatment until - at the very least - finalisation of the case.
This has brought some comfort to Ereselo, who visited the hospital for her treatment on May 8 - election day.
"The sickness I have is a lifelong illness. I didn't know what to do when they told me I won't get treatment. I felt helpless," she said. "But I'm very happy now. I hope I can keep going."
Ereselo has been waiting nine years for a hearing at the Refugee Appeals Board to cement her status as a refugee in SA, having fled her home country due to being labelled a political dissident by the regime in Ethiopia at the time.
She lives in Yeoville in Johannesburg.
Ereselo said that on April 24 the hospital told her she needed to return to Ethiopia for treatment, despite the fact that she is seeking political asylum in SA.
Lenahan said Ereselo was admitted to Helen Joseph in January for kidney failure, and was placed on tri-weekly acute haemodialysis treatment.
"Doctors at Helen Joseph Hospital have confirmed both to Ereselo and LHR that if her treatment is discontinued, she will die," Lenahan told the Sunday Times.
But in April Ereselo was given notice her treatment would stop on May 1.
"Through discussions with Helen Joseph Hospital, it appears that the reason for terminating the haemodialysis treatment is because of a policy of the national department of health," Lenahan says in court papers.
"Pursuant to this policy, it appears that the only reason for the termination of [Ereselo's] treatment is her immigration status as an asylum-seeker.
"In other words, it is only a policy that stands between the applicant and life-saving treatment."
Lenahan said Ereselo's matter is just the first part of a move to review SA's policy on access by asylum-seekers to medical treatment.
A friend of Ereselo's, Hanna Adbeo, said when they heard the news from the hospital, they begged and pleaded with the doctors to give her one more week of treatment.
"We were told Ereselo needs to go back to Ethiopia for help.
"I explained that she was an asylum-seeker and they didn't care. They just removed her [treatment] tube and said to go," said Adbeo.
The Gauteng department of health's Vuyo Sabani said the department could not comment because the matter was sub judice.
In March, the Sunday Times revealed that a circular had been distributed by the department of health in Gauteng stating that foreign patients should be turned away - even in cases of emergency - unless they pay in full for treatment. However, refugees would apparently be exempt, subject to a "means test".
The national department of health distanced itself from the circular at the time.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.