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Esidimeni Report update: The health department that sent mentally ill patients to death camps

Recently resigned GP MEC for health Qedani Mahlangu
Recently resigned GP MEC for health Qedani Mahlangu

THE last few days have seen South Africa more than just shocked but ashamed at the way almost 100 psychiatric patients lost their lives in the worst and shameful way in post apartheid South Africa. This follows the revelations by the appointed health ombudsman professor Malekgapuru Makgoba whose investigations into the initial reported 34 psychiatric deaths turned out to be three times more than reported by the MEC for health in Gauteng Qedani Mahlang. I-health.co.za followed the story from its beginning to the end. Source: https://goo.gl/jWVZdm

The attached article was but one of several that we ran in this platform with regards to the multiple deaths of mentally ill patients in Gauteng who were moved from the Life Esidimeni facility, (by the way, Esidimeni means ‘A place of dignity’), to several facilities across the country that we now unfortunately know were not licensed to operate, especially not with patients who needed the most utmost of care as these ones.

According to the now public heart breaking investigation, 94 and counting, as the investigations team have aptly named it, and not the initial 37 patients have since been confirmed dead with more deaths, unfortunately expected as a result of reckless and careless conduct by the Gauteng department of health.

The MEC for Health in Gauteng Qedani Mahlangu has since resigned as a result of the findings in what some have applauded as a show of accountability while others see it as little too late to save face. Though the scandal has largely exposed the Gauteng health department lessons from the investigation by a capable investigation team led by professor Makgoba are that the problem is bigger and more wider than that – a national health scandal that has been more politicised than professionalised.

The swift replacement of the resigned MEC Qedani Mahlangu by a professional and qualified Dr. Gwen Ramokgopa shows how exactly political deployments are slowing down public service and this should be a lesson on its own. According to a health official who didn’t want to be named because they are not authorised to speak on the issue, politically deploying Mahlangu when there are many capable people in the health territory was always a bomb waiting to go off and the now infamous Life Esidimeni report has exposed that.

The official said, “a professional, and not a political deployment would never have dared take decisions as we now know were. A health professional would have known that patients come first instead of the department wanting to save costs so that they could be seen to be saving when actually putting the patients at rist, a fatal risk in this case.”

According to the Sunday Times lead story in the past week the Gauteng department had been on a mission to save a mere 208 rand per patient as they led patients to die in indignity. https://goo.gl/t94uE8 

According to the damning report, of the current 94 confirmed dead as a result of negligence by senior officials of the department, all but one died as a result of their health condition, meaning a whopping 93 people died unnecesarily as this, according to the said report, could have been avoided. Worse still, the department went on to try and conceal this by lying about the numbers of those who had died scaling it to a mere minimum 34, as if that wasn’t one too many already.

The MEC may have resigned but it’s little consolation to the families of the deceased especially looking at the conditions their loved ones died under.

Under the leadership of the ruling party in Gauteng, the department of health and its former MEC Mahlangu will be remembered for having run death camps where mentally ill patients were sent to undignified deaths that could have been avoided. But not only this as they will also be remembered for trying to cover up these deaths as if it were just mice perishing in the wind.

The Esidimeni Report found that patients were moved from the Life Esidimeni to save a mere 208 per patient per day, making the financial books look good while putting the poor patients in fatal danger. The Sunday Times reported in their editorial over the weekend equating the tragedy to the 1960 massacre that took place in Sharpeville under the apartheid government as well the more recent one whereby police killed a total of not less than 30 miners in Marikana, North West province as they protested for better living wages.

But with all the revelations and the resignation of the provincial head Mahlangu, has the lessons been learnt or will we just have to come to terms with this episode as we await another however many years from now? Is Minister Aaron Motsoeledi, himself a professional medical doctor going to make sure that we never come to this sad, unfortunate and unnecessary episode ever again? These questions are important because what we now understand is that though this may just have been a Gauteng province expose it is actually a nation wide problem in more ways than one. Our system is rotten and needs to be restarted if we are to go anywhere, and maybe this very unfortunate is what we needed to stop future same.

Musekwa is a content writer for I-health.co.za and has followed the #EsidimeniReport from the beginning to end

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