A recent report by the Health Ombudsman paints a poor picture of the state of mental health facilities and management in South Africa.
While the nation is outraged at the death of so many patients in a short space of time and calling for a total overhaul of public health care, to the families of the deceased this is a double blow as they want justice from the system that allowed such a shameful tragedy to happen.
The shocking news came after the report of the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malekgapuru Makgoba, revealed that out of 1,900 mentally ill patients that were transferred from Life Health Care Esidimeni to 27 ill-equipped and unlicensed non-governmental organisations (NGO) across the Gauteng Province, 94 had died and the number was expected to rise. There are many unidentified bodies at mortuaries believed to be of mentally ill patients.One of the reported reasons for the transfer of patients, according to the report, was for the state to save money.
In an interview with Elitsha, Lucas Mogoerane (71), spoke with anger and a heavy heart about his younger brother, Christopher Mogoerane, who was born in 1960 and suffered from schizophrenia from a young age and was not supposed to die.
“He was very healthy, not sick. Even looking at him in this picture how he was dressed, you wouldn’t say he was schizophrenic. His life was cut short unnecessarily and as the family we feel bad about this. We are very angry,” he said.
He said his brother was admitted at Life Esidimeni facilities in Randfontein and Germiston respectively and received the best care possible unlike at the Rebafeng Centre, an NGO where he was transferred and lasted only two weeks.
“He was among the first to die in 2016 and all of them except one, died of conditions unrelated to mental illness such as starvation and dehydration. This happened as the result of the Gauteng Health Department trying to save costs at the expense of the lives of the people,” he said.
Though Qedani Mahlangu, Member of Executive Council (MEC) for health in Gauteng has since resigned, Mogoerane who is also the spokesperson for the bereaved families said this is not enough. To get answers and justice from this horrible ordeal, he said as the families of the deceased, they are calling for everybody involved in the saga to be brought to book and face the full might of the law. He said they’ll sit down with their Section 27 lawyers and discuss possible litigation and ultimately compensation from the government.
Another affected family member, Andrew Pietersen said that though he was lucky that his uncle survived this tragedy, he suffered badly and they too want justice for what happened.
“When we heard the news briefly sometime last year that patients might be transferred, we felt that something dangerous will happen and unfortunately the department was not forthcoming with clear answers,” he said.
Responding to the report, Section 27, a human rights lobby group said the Life Esidimeni Case has demonstrated that the Gauteng Health Department, under the leadership of the MEC, acted in clear violation of its own well-articulated mental health policy. It says all the NGO licenses provided to the Ombudsman were signed by Dr Makgabo Manamela who is not legally authorised to sign licenses. In addition, some NGOs started receiving patients even before they were issued licenses. “This was to facilitate what the Ombud described as a rushed, chaotic transfer process in order to ostensibly save the department money,” reads the statement.
“We commend the Health Ombud and the Office of Health Standards Compliance for their commitment to the improvement of the healthcare system, in particular for the most vulnerable. The independence and integrity with which they conducted this process is an example for other bodies meant to protect the public and hold public officials to account.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) also released a statement: “That the patients died in the manner in which they did is unacceptable, and it should not repeat itself in future.
“The report should serve as a caution to all provinces, especially those that may have had similar plans of transferring patients from well-established hospitals to NGOs with no basic experience of caring for mental patients.”