Bloemfontein - The SA National Aids Council's (Sanac) civil society forum on Friday called for the immediate release of more than 100 health workers who were arrested for staging a sit-in at the Free State health department.
“The demonstration took place to highlight the crumbling state of the Free State health system,” Sanac deputy chairman Mmapaseka Steve Letsike said in a statement.
“In particular the healthcare workers, mostly elderly women, took action after they had been relieved of their duties without prior notice and attempts to engage decision-makers had been unsuccessful.”
The workers were arrested in Bloemfontein on Thursday morning.
The Treatment Action Campaign said at the time the workers, mostly older women, and the TAC took part in a vigil in an attempt to speak out against the failings and collapse of the Free State health system.
The vigil was staged after health workers failed to gain an audience with health MEC Benny Malakoane.
TAC general secretary Anele Yawa said the TAC had previously demanded a meeting with Malakoane following a sit-in at Bophelo House on June 27.
The workers were expected to apply for bail in the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on Friday, Yawa said.
Letsike said a recent investigation by the TAC and Section 27
found the province's health system suffered from a number of systemic problems.
These included a lack of equipment and supplies for testing and monitoring, stock-outs and shortages of drugs, a lack of laundry services, staff, doctors, and patchy to no services such as ambulances.
Letsike said workers like those arrested were the backbone of the provincial health system and were not criminals.
“They must be released immediately... Each and every person has a role to play in addressing health barriers and ensuring meaningful access to equal and competent services.”
Apart from releasing the workers, the provincial department had to assume responsibility for fixing the problems within the health system.
He said the provincial Aids council leadership needed to fast-track its restructuring and for Sanac's national leadership to support the province in ensuring health services were restored.
Earlier on Friday, the SA Human Rights Commission criticised the arrest of the health workers.
Spokesman Isaac Mangena said in a statement that it was understood most of the workers were women protesting against the state of the province's healthcare system and the alleged firing of around 3000 community health workers.
The commission on various occasions had expressed its grave concern about the state of public healthcare facilities across South Africa.