A Burundian man living in Sunnyside, Pretoria, is at his wits’ end. His wife is dead, his children are hungry and he blames the South African government.
Andrea Hakizimana died on December 21 last year, 18 days after her court bid to force the Gauteng Department of Health to give her renal dialysis treatment failed.
The Socio Economic Rights Institute had launched the urgent court bid on her behalf to help her get treatment.
At the time, she had been receiving medication, but not dialysis, at the Steve Biko Pretoria Academic hospital.
She was discharged two days later on December 6, after the authorities and her lawyers agreed in the Pretoria High Court that she would only get emergency treatment.
But Hakizimana’s condition deteriorated so badly that 12 hours after her discharge she had to be admitted to the Louis Pasteur private hospital in Pretoria, where she died.
Almost two months after her burial, her husband and their six children are battling to find closure.
“Why did she have to die this way? Does anyone who is not a South African citizen, though legally in the country, have to die like this?” asked her husband * Bishop. “Where is the humanity in all this?”
Hakizimana was denied life- saving care by two Gauteng hospitals because of her immigration status.
A nephrologist at Louis Pasteur wrote in Hakizimana’s medical report that she “was extremely ill” when she was admitted.
“On examination at the time, her blood pressure was low, she appeared weak, disorientated and… she had decreased breath sounds bibasally (crackles at the base of both left and right lungs),” wrote Dr Zubair Asmal.
In May 2007, Hakizimana, who had been living in South Africa since 2003, was diagnosed with chronic renal failure and told she needed dialysis. She sought care from Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg and Steve Biko Academic hospitals, but was turned away due to her temporary, asylum-seeker status.
She was told she could only be considered for dialysis if she received permanent residence in South Africa or if the UN intervened.
Hakizimana and her husband fled conflict in Burundi in 2003. Their application for asylum was rejected but they appealed the decision and were granted temporary asylum status pending a final decision.
“I blame Home Affairs for her death because had our asylum appeal been fast-tracked given her condition, she would still be here today,” Bishop said.
“I equally blame the Department of Health for failing to help save her life. I blame the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, too, for delaying help until it was too late.”
Bishop said he and his children were bitter about what happened to Hakizimana.
“My children today understand and know how much we suffered. They saw their mother through to her last moments,” he said. “How can a country with a constitution… fail to respect human life like they did with my wife’s?”
Bishop said his wife was a victim of a xenophobic public hospital policy. He added her suffering at a public hospital went against one of the basic principles of the health service - health care is a right.
“I suffered for so long with my wife without help because we are not South African citizens nor have permanent asylum,” he explained. “They were so quick to issue me with her death certificate but no one was willing to help me save her life.”
At the time of her court case, Steve Biko hospital CEO Dr Ernest Kenoshi said Hakizimana would not “jump the queue” for dialysis. Kenoshi reportedly said Hakizimana was not a dying patient.
This, despite doctors’ warnings that without dialysis, she had “a poor prognosis (likely to be days)”.
Requests for comment from Kenoshi went unanswered. - Saturday Star