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Court to decide on free healthcare for pregnant women, young children

A court application has been launched to confirm access to free health-care for all pregnant and lactating women and children aged 6 years and below. Picture: File

A court application has been launched to confirm access to free health-care for all pregnant and lactating women and children aged 6 years and below. Picture: File

Published Jul 1, 2022

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Pretoria - Section27, together with three mothers, have launched a court application to confirm access to free health-care for all pregnant and lactating women and children aged 6 years and below.

This should include persons seeking asylum, undocumented persons and stateless persons.

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The applicants will ask the high court sitting in Joburg to order that relevant Gauteng legislation, regulations and policies are unlawful to the extent that they fail to provide access to free health services to all pregnant women and children not on medical aid.

The applicants will further argue that this is in contravention of the National Health Act.

The court will also be asked to order that the Department of Health issue a circular and publish a poster at all public health establishments that makes clear that all pregnant women and children are entitled to access free health services.

The applicants were denied access to health-care services when they were pregnant, while another applicant’s child was denied free health services.

The respondents are the MEC for Health in Gauteng, Minister of Health, Director-General for Health and Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

The Jesuit Refugee Service, Doctors Without Borders and the South African HIV Clinicians’ Society have provided supporting evidence to this application, based on their experiences with cases of pregnant women and young children denied health-care services.

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Section27 launched this application in response to complaints by many pregnant women and mothers of children who have been required to pay fees to access health-care services at public hospitals in Gauteng.

In one case, a 2-year-old died after being denied emergency treatment when he swallowed rat poison at home.

“This denial of free health services prevails despite the fact that Section 27 of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to access healthcare services, including reproductive health-care services,” Pearl Nicodemus of Section27 said.

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She added that the National Health Act provides that subject to any condition prescribed by the minister, the state must provide pregnant and lactating women, and children under 6 – except members of medical aid schemes and their dependants – with free health services.

“The health minister has not prescribed conditions limiting this section, meaning that all pregnant and lactating women and children under 6 are entitled to free health services. The state thus has an obligation to provide such free health-care services.

“The continued lack of access to health care can make the difference between life and death,” Nicodemus said.

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It will be argued that the Gauteng legislation and regulations are confusing and that as a result, the health policy in effect is understood to exclude specific categories of vulnerable pregnant women and children from accessing free services.

“Access to free health services is critical to the rights of pregnant women and young children, both of which are universally recognised to be vulnerable categories of persons,” Nicodemus said.

It will be argued that for pregnant women, the lack of access to health-care services is one of the underlying causes of maternal mortality and morbidity.

The antenatal period is important to track risk factors like HIV and hypertension that can affect the pregnant woman and the foetus.

During the birthing process, high-risk factors may lead to complications for both mother and child if unidentified and unmanaged.

“For young children, the lack of access to health-care services can disadvantage them at this critical stage of development. For instance, in the absence of a timely diagnosis of a pregnant woman living with HIV, the opportunity to prevent HIV transmission to the infant is lost,” Nicodemus said.

No date has yet been determined for the hearing and the health authorities cited as respondents must still file their answers.

Pretoria News

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