Pretoria - Little Sipho Peace Makhoba can walk, but he cannot talk and needs around the clock care due to the severe brain damage he suffered at the hands of staff at a State hospital as a result of lack of oxygen during birth.
The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, months ago ruled that the MEC for Health had to pay R18 million, to be placed in a trust and used to take care of the 12-year-old for the rest of his life.
But leading medical malpractice lawyer, Olof Joubert, said they were still awaiting payment. This, in spite of an offer made by him that the evidently cash-strapped Gauteng Department of Health could pay the money in monthly instalments.
Sipho is only one of many children Joubert referred to as “the lost generation of children in South Africa”; children suffering because the department is of late in many cases not honouring its payment obligations.
Last month, the sheriff removed two truckloads of furniture from the department’s head office in Joburg. These included computers, chairs and desks in an endeavour to recoup the R6.2m the court had ordered it to pay in the case of another child.
Joubert on Monday issued four different summonses against the department to attach its bank accounts due to outstanding payments, running into millions. Sipho’s claim is part of the action.
Joubert’s legal firm has over the years taken up the plight of this lost generation of children, who mainly suffer from brain damage which usually manifest as severe cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment.
For Joubert, the children and their parents are much more than mere clients. He goes beyond duty to try to assist them, often digging into his own pocket.
They mostly suffered brain damage during birth as a result of the medical negligence of staff at a variety of state-owned hospitals. This, he said, mostly occurred due to the compromising treatment of the mothers during labour and the negligent treatment of the babies after birth.
“These children have suffered a devastating loss of leading a normal life, all because of medical negligence during birth. They mostly cannot sit without support, crawl or walk. They cannot feed themselves and are incontinent.”
Their parents have to take care of the enormous expenses until they receive compensation from the department. In Sipho’s case, his mother, Jessie, has to make do with a R380 monthly grant.
“Over the years, hundreds of these children have been born. The enormous suffering of these children and their families have gone largely unnoticed. The children are usually among the poorest of the poor.”
Their parents cannot afford the specialised around the clock care, the surgical procedures and assistive devices they need. Joubert said the only way to alleviate the suffering a bit was to try to improve their quality of life by means of specialised care and devices. In the past the department complied with court orders, which resulted in a vast improvement in the quality of life of these children.
Chumani Magwayi, also 12, can now manoeuvre his own electric wheelchair at the special school he attends.
Kamogelo, 11, also has a wheelchair and a fulltime caregiver, while Wandile, 11, can ride his specially adapted bicycle and it is anticipated that he will be able to walk in the near future.
The surnames of both children have been withheld as per request.
But Joubert said for the past 15 months, the money had dried up for other children in the same position.
The department recently employed a private firm of attorneys, as opposed to the state attorney, to negotiate payment of the awards in instalments.
Despite his firm negotiating and agreeing to these terms, the department had simply failed to sign these agreements, he said.
“To date there has been no response whatsoever from the MEC and the department or its private firm of attorneys not a word is said about the prejudice which these children suffer as a result of non payment and non compliance with court orders.”
Joubert said this left his firm with no choice but to turn to court.
Department spokesperson Prince Hamnca said: “We can confirm that the sheriff attached furniture, but services are functioning as normal."
He said patient care and safety should not be compromised.
Consultations with all relevant stakeholders are continuing.