Mokopane - Seven-month-old Kagiso Kobe suffered from diarrhoea and vomited helplessly for a week as he lay at Limpopo’s George Masebe Hospital outside Mokopane.
There were no doctors available to treat him because almost all of them had gone on leave for the festive season.
Seeing that no help was forthcoming, his mother Connie Kobe requested that he be discharged.
She had hoped to take him to her personal doctor. The hospital management refused.
The next day, a Thursday, Kagiso died. The little boy is among four children who died last week at the troubled hospital in Mokopane.
It has now emerged that seven doctors had gone on leave by December 25. Only one doctor was on duty at the 288-bed hospital.
The Limpopo Health Department said it was investigating why almost all the doctors were allowed to go on leave at the same time.
“The situation here is saddening. It goes against everything we stand for as a department. I have called for a commission of inquiry that will report to my office within a week,” said MEC Norman Mabasa.
He said action would be taken against any official found to have acted negligently.
Two mothers who lost their babies met with Mabasa at the hospital yesterday.
Desia Ratime, 29, broke down in tears as the MEC apologised for the deaths.
Kagiso’s mother said she intended to take legal action against the department.
The three other children were aged between four weeks and 18 months.
“I am battling to understand why they refused to discharge my baby, when they knew that they did not have doctors to help him. This is hurting,” Kobe told The Star.
During his unannounced visit to the hospital’s wards yesterday, Mabasa met a six-year-old boy who was yet to be seen by a doctor since his admission on Christmas Day.
The boy’s leg was fractured after he was run over by a car.
“The parents of these children are now fighting with us. They want to discharge them by force,” a nurse told Mabasa.
Mabasa promised that two doctors from neighbouring Voortrekker Hospital would be transferred to the district hospital immediately.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union wants the hospital management to account for the deaths. “These babies died of treatable diseases because there were not enough doctors at the hospital,” the union said in a statement.
Mabasa insisted that the one doctor who had been on duty had seen some of the dead babies.
According to Mabasa, Limpopo has a 70 percent vacancy rate for doctors. However, he said the province had no money to employ more doctors.
He said he had employed more than 100 doctors last year, despite the tight budget.
“When I arrived here in March, I was told there would be no doctor or nurse employed in this province because there was no money. I then wrote a motivation and said ‘not under my watch’.
“I motivated to the legislature, I was allowed to employ 125 doctors and 235 nurses,” said Mabasa.
The four babies’ deaths come as the Limpopo Health Department battles to turn the tide, more than a year after President Jacob Zuma placed it, alongside four other provincial departments, under administration.
In December 2010, Zuma took control of the five provincial departments after Limpopo was plunged into a R2.2 billion cash-flow crisis.
The financial crisis saw the province almost failing to pay public servants their salaries.
Widespread corruption and procurement irregularities have been blamed for the province’s financial and governance failures.
Several people, including public servants and former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, have been arrested, charged or questioned by the Hawks for allegedly looting the province’s finances.
The Health Department has for years been plagued by allegations of tender fraud and widespread corruption, maladministration, financial mismanagement and the theft of medicine from the provincial pharmaceutical depot.
All of these have led to critical medicine shortages, low morale, an exodus of medical practitioners and occasional protests by health professionals.
The department has also seen a high turnover of heads of department and MECs since Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale took over in 2009. It has had three MECs as well as three heads of department.