As part of the Mandela Day initiative, the provincial Department of Health will embark on a series of life-changing surgeries that will see 67 patients getting either cataract or arthroplasty (hip and knee joint) surgeries within the space of a month. File picture: Paballo Thekiso/ANA Pictures
With less than a month left before Nelson Mandela International Day, which calls for people to devote 67 minutes of their time to helping others, Western Cape medics are taking this appeal a little bit further by performing 67 surgeries on the province’s destitute.

Every year on Mandela’s birthday, July 18, people around the world use the day to honour Mandela’s legacy, and his values, through volunteering and community service. The day celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world.

As part of the Mandela Day initiative, this week the provincial Department of Health will embark on a series of life-changing surgeries that will see 67 patients getting either cataract or arthroplasty (hip and knee joint) surgeries within the space of a month.

The initiative, of which Independent Media is a part, will see 40 patients receive free cataract surgeries, and 27 people getting joint operations from various public hospitals in the province, at a cost of almost R1million. Ordinarily these patients would have to wait for up to two years for such surgeries due to the long waiting list of elective surgeries in the public sector.

Dr Beth Engelbrecht, the head of department who is spearheading the project, said the department had so far raised about R750 000 to do these surgeries for qualifying people. She said this would, however, not be enough, and the department needed an additional R150 000 in order to perform all the surgeries.

Engelbrecht said that the department, various NGOs, doctors and nurses from both the public and private sectors not only donated money towards the project, but would, for the next month, be offering their expertise and time for free to do the surgeries.

Knee and hip joint surgeries are done when the joint has reached the point where it can no longer function and cannot be repaired. Not only does this affect the patient’s mobility, it also leads to poor quality of life due to the associated chronic pain.

It costs about R60 000 for a joint operation.

The current waiting list for a knee/hip operation stands at 4119, and the waiting period is anything from six months to two years. There are 1546 people waiting for a total hip replacement, while 2573 are waiting for a total knee replacement in the Western Cape.

Similarly, there are long waiting lists for cataract surgery.

Western Cape hospitals should ideally be performing almost 10000 cataract surgeries a year, but due to limited resources the province can only perform 6500.

Engelbrecht said that in keeping with the spirit of giving selflessly on Mandela Day, the department had decided to go beyond the normal to try to “do something extraordinary for patients who can be helped relatively easily, but would normally wait quite long”.

“We decided that we needed to do 67 operations for Mandela Day. To help these patients, our call for help has been answered by some of our doctors and colleagues in the private sector who will donate their time to this worthy cause. The department is providing theatre resources and consumables for the procedures.

“Madiba said that ‘it is impossible until it is done’. Doing 67 additional operations (without the department allocating extra funding) is seemingly impossible, but we have managed to raise R750000, and what we want is for more people to come on board so that we can offer more operations over a period of time,” she said.

It would be the first time the province engages in such a project. Engelbrecht said the more funds are raised the more surgeries will be performed.

Eight hospitals across the Western Cape will participate in the hip and knee surgeries, while all the cataract surgeries will be done at Eerste River Hospital.

One of the private funders that has contributed to the project is the Medi-Clinic hospital group, which has donated R50000, and has offered to perform additional cataract surgeries at Milnerton Mediclinic.

Organisations such as the Ackerman Foundation, Medmetrics, Smith and Nephew, The Cape Joint Trust, and the two joint sisters, Nicci and Ruth Annette, have also contributed.

As the media partner of the project, Independent Media titles will in the next few weeks be publishing a series of stories on patients who will have cataract and joint surgeries.

To donate towards the project you can transfer funds to the Groote Schuur Hospital Facilities Board Account:

First National Bank

Account number: 62478395306

Cheque Account, and swift code: FIRNZAJJ

Reference with #Mandela67#

For more information go to the Groote Schuur Hospital Board’s website: