Shortage of staff and broken oncology equipment put patients in danger in KZN. Picture: FILE PHOTO
Durban – The Democratic Alliance on Monday warned the South African Human Rights Commission that in an echo of the tragedy of 94 mentally ill patients in Gauteng, it has also been informed about the ongoing deaths of cancer patients in KwaZulu-Natal.

In an open letter to the media, DA health spokesman Dr Imran Keeka said: “These patients were under the supposed care of Gauteng’s health department. To make matters worse, the South African Human Rights Commission [SAHRC] knew about the situation, yet sat on their hands.

"Alarmingly, a similar situation exists here in KZN where the DA has reported the plight of numerous cancer patients who, in our opinion, are being neglected by the province’s ANC-run health department, to the point that curable cancers are becoming incurable.”

He urged the SAHRC to take action against KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo for stalling their investigation into the plight of cancer patients in the care of the provincial health department (DoH).

“Sources within the DoH have confirmed that the SAHRC investigation is being stalled due to a lack of response from the MEC. It is unacceptable that the SAHRC continues to drag its heels waiting for MEC Dhlomo’s response while people are being doomed to untimely demise.”

Earlier this month it emerged that at least 94 mental health patients had died in Gauteng after they were transferred from Life Esidimeni Centre.

In his report, Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Mkgoba found that 93 of those patients died as a result of dehydration, diarrhea, epilepsy, and other causes unrelated to their respective mental illnesses.

Then SAHRC spokesman Isaac Mangena confirmed in March 2013 that the the SAHRC received a complaint from the Democratic Alliance over two state-of-the-art cancer radiotherapy machines that have remained mostly idle since 2014 over the department’s failure to pay for maintenance of the two machines.

It was the second complaint, with the first being lodged in July 2013 by Professor Amo Jordaan, the former head of oncology at Durban’s Addington Hospital from 1980 to 2012.

Jordaan, who quit in 2012 over the failure to keep the machines operational, said up to 100 patients daily could receive radiotherapy when the machines were up and running.

Currently, both machines have been in disuse since November, despite the department appointing a new service provider – KZN Oncology Inc – to service and maintain the machines.

Keeka said that it was time that the SAHRC exercised its powers afforded it. “The SAHRC should not be afraid of MEC Dhlomo and must tell him once and for all that his stalling tactics won't work,” said Keeka.

Questions first lodged by African News Agency on December 16 over the status of SAHRC’s investigation into the machines have remained unanswered despite repeated calls and emails. 

No questions submitted by ANA to the KwaZulu-Health department over the machines as well as staff issues have remained unanswered, with the most recent questions having been submitted on February 7.

Not only have the machines not been properly working, numerous staff have quit over conditions in the Department’s oncology section, with four oncologists having quit in the past four months. That includes the former head of oncology in Durban, Dr Poovan Govender.

One new oncologist has been brought in from Greys Hospital in Pietermaritzburg to ensure that there will be at least two oncologists in Durban, working at Addington and Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospitals.