We suck. Big time. All of us

CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

In­dian states­man Ma­hatma Gandhi said: “The true mea­sure of any so­ci­ety can be found in how it treats its most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers.” If there is truth in the words spo­ken by the man who once graced our shores, we are a con­tempt­able one in­deed.

If you have a strong stom­ach, down­load and read health om­buds­man Male­ga­puru Mak­goba’s re­port on the Life Esidimeni saga, the hor­rific ac­count of the deaths of more than 94 of Gaut­eng’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

In it, you will learn how se­verely dis­abled pa­tients were herded on to bakkies and dumped at non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs). Some pa­tients were strapped down with bed­sheets for the ride. Most were not ac­com­pa­nied by their med­i­cal records, leav­ing their new “care­givers” clue­less about what med­i­cal con­di­tions they suf­fered from.

This hap­pened de­spite pro­vin­cial health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s re­peated as­sur­ances – even to a court – that the NGOs her of­fi­cials ap­pointed would pro­vide the sick with bet­ter care than the hospi­tal they came from. At the time, Mahlangu had bet­ter things to do. She was fight­ing an elec­tion.

The depart­ment did this to save a few bucks. Life Esidimeni was charg­ing just short of R10 000 per month per pa­tient, while the Gaut­eng health depart­ment was pre­pared to pay only about R3 500. And then they didn’t pay the NGOs – which they al­lowed to op­er­ate un­law­fully – for three whole months. Many pa­tients were so starved and de­hy­drated that they wasted away in their thread­bare clothes. One man’s trousers were so loose they were held up by a shoelace.

This week we heard of one fam­ily that was only in­formed of a rel­a­tive’s death after six months. What an ap­palling in­dict­ment – not only of the NGO and the depart­ment, but of a fam­ily who had not both­ered to visit. Out of sight...

In this edi­tion we re­veal how many of these pa­tients died in the pre­ced­ing years at Life Esidimeni. We also re­veal that, although the fam­i­lies opened an in­quest docket with the po­lice, no de­tec­tive has yet been as­signed to the case.

We fur­ther re­veal that, when the depart­ment was in­formed last July that many pa­tients had died, a se­nior of­fi­cial brushed it off as “sab­o­tage” by Life Esidimeni, and said: “Leave it. We know what to do.” And then they did noth­ing. Had these been men­tally sound pa­tients, there would have been ac­tion and their deaths would not have been so silent.

Shame on all of us.

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