KZN oncology crisis claims boy's life

Qalokusha Msweli died at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital from a cancerous tumour in his brainstem on Thursday morning Picture: Supplied

Qalokusha Msweli died at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital from a cancerous tumour in his brainstem on Thursday morning Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 30, 2017

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Friday was the deadline for the Department of Health to hand over an action plan to resolve the province’s oncology crisis, but any intervention will come too late for a nine-year-old boy who died while waiting for radiotherapy treatment. 

Qalokusha Msweli died at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital from a cancerous tumour in his brainstem on Thursday morning. His mother, Thandi Khoza, said he was wheezing and coughing on Wednesday night. She was by his side as he let out a final cough, then took his last breath. 

“I was shocked. I could see the machine (heart monitor) drop down to zero but I didn’t expect him to die, just like that” she said. 

Qalokusha was admitted at the beginning of June, after a CT scan and MRI confirmed he had a brain stem glioma. 

“I noticed his hand was stiff in January while helping him with homework, he could barely grasp,” said Khoza. 

Qalokusha had recently taken off a cast after breaking his arm – she thought his condition was an aftereffect of that injury. But when it progressed, she took him to Ngwelezane Hospital where he was referred as his condition got worse, eventually leading to paralysis. 

At Albert Luthuli Hospital, Qalokusha was scheduled for five days of radiotherapy, but only went once, on June 29. 

Khoza left him in hospital, confident that the potentially lifesaving treatment would continue. 

After receiving no word she returned, leaving her two other children, and a job in Mtubatuba to sleep in a chair by his side. 

Qalokusha was again given a date for this month. However when they arrived, they were told a mask to keep his head in place had been lost and his treatment would be rescheduled. 

This did not happen. 

His father, Jabulani Msweli, said as recently as Monday, they were promised Qalokusha would be given a radiotherapy date. 

“He got weaker, stopped talking, when he cried, sometimes tears would just come out of his eyes and no sound at all. It was painful to watch,” said Khoza. 

She said at one point, a doctor in the ward asked her when Qalokusha was going for radiotherapy. 

“I went to the oncology department to ask but no one could answer me. The nurses in the ward were really nice but they couldn’t tell me anything. The surgical department told me the truth, that they could not operate on him because the tumour was in a bad place. The oncologist said they were going to treat him, why couldn’t they do that, at least try and leave the rest to God? If things were too bad, why didn’t they tell me there was nothing else they could do?” said Khoza. 

“We would have wanted him to be around his siblings, for us to pray for him and have a chance to say goodbye to him as family. But the way things were handled hurts me,” said Jabulani. 

Unemployed due to epilepsy – he said he was at a loss for words to describe the pain of losing his son.

Lorraine Govender, the national advocacy co-ordinator of the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), which provided counselling and support for Khoza after being contacted by her employer, said they shared the family’s concern about bringing Qalokusha’s body home and hoped the public would support their plea for help. 

“Children in public health care always have first priority.”

Although he lost his battle with cancer, Qalokusha’s diagnosis and initiation on treatment had been relatively fast considering that cancer patients waited up to eight months for treatment as reported in the South African Human Rights Commission report released last month. 

The Commission’s Gushwell Brooks said following the 10-day deadline they also imposed a 30-day deadline, ending on Friday for the department to provide a plan on how they would implement recommendations. “Once we have received it we will study it and determine whether it is appropriate and if we need to take it further, more serious steps,” he said. 

The Mercury could not get comment from the Health Department on this article in time for publication.

The Mercury

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