How did 94 mental health patients die in South Africa?

They were being treated at unregistered facilities with no doctors, trained nurses and little equipment to cater to their specialised needs. The government had moved a total of 1,300 patients out of private hospitals to save money.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

The public have taken to the street, demanding an overhaul of the health department in the country.

How did they die?

Negligence.

A report investigating the deaths, said that 93 of the patients “died from other things like dehydration, diarrhoea, epilepsy, heart attacks, all other things except mental illness."

The other person died from a mental illness, said Malegapuru Makgoba, South Africa’s Health Ombudsman, a body that investigates private or public complaints in the sector.

Makgoba said the death toll was "a provisional number" and could rise because more people were coming forward with information.

Where did they go and why?

The report said the patients were moved to 27 facilities because the provincial health department did not want to pay for private healthcare.

Patients were selected in a process like an "auction cattle market," before being taken away in open pick-up trucks and then often shuttled between several of the new care centres.

Psychiatric care takes the back seat in state funding, and public hospitals do not have enough equipment or staff, while private hospitals are too expensive.


Relatives said they were not informed about where the patients were and were not told when patients died. (AFP)

How were the patients treated?

The centres failed to provide seriously ill patients with enough food and water, leaving them severely malnourished and underweight, breaching Section 27 of the Constitution - which gives everyone the right to have access to health care - and the Mental Health Care Act.

Relatives said they were not informed about where the patients were and were not told when patients died in the overcrowded, unheated centres.

Some witnesses compared the facilities to "concentration camps."

Who is responsible?

Opposition parties held President Jacob Zuma accountable and called for the leader of the Gauteng provincial government, David Makhura, to resign.

The head of the province’s health  department, Qedani Mahlangu, resigned on Tuesday, a day before the report was released.

For his part, Zuma said the report will help the government ensure that “such a tragedy does not recur,” and did not say if immediate action would be taken.

He expressed condolences to the families of the dead, but some opposition leaders said he was ultimately responsible for it.

At this stage, it is not clear if criminal charges will be pressed.

How have South Africans reacted?

They are outraged that mentally challenged patients in Gauteng, South Africa’s most well-resourced province were treated so poorly.

Horrified radio callers and social media users demanded an overhaul of the health department in the country.

In the wake of the public outcry, the Gauteng provincial government has announced plans to relocate the remainder of the patients.

 

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies