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Health services in De Doorns have been caught in the crossfire of the farmworkers’ strike, with several health institutions in the area closed for business.
The Orchard, Sandhills and De Doorns clinics have been closed intermittently since the start of the strike on November 1, with the De Doorns clinic closed for four days this week, the second week of the strike.
The clinic provides services to about 20 000 people in women’s health, mother and child care, as well as chronic care and infectious diseases.
Jo-Anne Otto, a spokeswoman for the provincial Health Department, said the clinics were closed on and off on the advice of police. She said staff had, however, opened as and when they could, mostly during the mornings.
Otto said Orchard clinic was open yesterday, while the De Doorns and Sandhills clinics remained closed.
“As the protest action escalated, the safety of both staff and patients was compromised,” she said. Health workers were particularly worried about children’s health in the De Doorns area because it was “diarrhoea season”.
Yesterday, patients, including some with babies strapped to their backs, were turning away from the clinic when they realised the gates were closed, and that they could not collect medication and clinic cards.
One 42-year-old woman went to get her HIV treatment yesterday, concerned the clinic would be closed on Monday, her regular collection day.
“I’ve got enough pills to last me until Monday. I don’t know what will happen if I don’t get my treatment thereafter,” she said, complaining that the strike action was far away from the clinic.
“The strike is not about the clinic, it’s about farms,” she said.
Andries Syster, 47, suffers from epilepsy and was also unable to get his medication.
“I take three kinds of tablets for my epilepsy. I have two, I came to collect the other. I need those pills, I won’t be okay without them,” he said.
A 23-year-old mother, who did not want to be named, said she was there to collect formula for her two-month-old baby.
“I usually come get about two tins of 250g formula when it’s finished. There’s absolutely nothing at home. I don’t even have money to buy formula because we’ve been on strike. I don’t know where to start,” she said.
Otto said the closure of the clinics was a last resort.
“Western Cape government health repeatedly urged the community to allow emergency vehicles free access to people needing care. Even so, our emergency medical services were required to request police escorts when travelling to patients,” she said.
She urged communities to respect health services so that patients can be treated in a safe environment.