Johannesburg - An Eastern Cape nurse is at loggerheads with an NGO over allegations of violating a patient that visited a hospital seeking help.
The health department has been urged by the Passionate Unlimited Peers in Action (Pupa) to revoke Luyolo Somhlahlo's nursing license.
On the morning of February 26, Thobeka Mxenge, 23, (not her real name) visited the Community Health Care Centre in the Alfred Nzo District of the Eastern Cape, where Somhlahlo allegedly violated her rights to health care and dignity.
On that fateful Sunday, Mxenge awoke with excruciating stomach pain. She was taken urgently to the medical facility by a friend and a neighbour. When they arrived, a male nurse who worked there named Somhlahlo allegedly met them with hostility.
Mxenge detailed the horrifying ordeal in a written statement. “On February 25, 2023, around 7pm, I felt pain at the base of my stomach, but I thought the pain was caused by the healed scar of my previous operation (caesarean birth) since it was cold because it usually gets painful on cold days.
“In the early hours of the next morning, around 4 am, I went to the toilet still in pain. I was wearing only a shirt I had worn the previous night. I grabbed a jacket, wrapped myself with a towel, and went outside to the toilet. I wondered why I was in so much pain and if it were normal for a pregnant woman to have stomach aches,” said Mxenge.
While in the toilet, she called out for her flatmate to aid her. Mxenge said her flatmate came running to the toilet to find out why she was screaming. The screams were so loud that a neighbour looked in hopes of investigating the source of the screams.
The two women realised the neighbour was looking out the window and asked him to drive them to the facility.
“We found security guards at the gate, and they said we should wait for them to wake up the nurses who would assist us. We then entered the clinic, and a female helped me with braids, but I could not see her name tag properly.
“There were two other males inside the clinic. The lady asked me to urinate and asked whether I was pregnant. I responded that I was four months pregnant. One of the males said I must get onto the bed and open my legs, and then he inserted a finger and then said I was indeed pregnant and that the pain I was experiencing was due to the water coming out. He inserted his finger again, and water came out," she said.
She said she was asked to lift her shirt to see if she was pregnant.
"I was crying, and the male said I should not make noise, but I responded that it was painful. The male later said I must push, and when I did so, I closed my mouth. I tried to push for a while, and he complained that I was wasting their time because they left other patients on the other side,” Mxenge said.
Mxenge delivered a still-born baby a short while afterwards. Somhlahlo allegedly urged Mxenge to wipe the blood from the face of the dead child. Despite the trauma, she felt obligated to follow Somhlahlo's instructions.
“He then said I am disrespecting him. Soon afterwards, the female returned with an injection and told me it was to stop the bleeding. I was not paying attention to the third person because he was not doing anything. After the injection, the other male asked me to wake up and see this thing I had just given birth to and enquired about the neighbour I had accompanied me to the clinic. It must have been around 5.45am. He then went outside to call my house-mate," she said.
“He then asked who would be called, and I told them to call my neighbour because I knew my brother would not pick up the phone then. This man asked me to take a picture to show my friend, but he took my phone and a photo of the baby. When he came back, he told me to lay on my back so that he could clean me. He then cut the umbilical cord and asked for something to wrap around the baby," she said.
Mxenge said she was then told to get off the bed and sit on a chair. She was given a sanitary pad. The horrified woman said that one of the nurses then took the lifeless foetus and placed it in a red plastic bag along with the towel she had on before putting the plastic bag in a box.
She said Somhlahlo administered an injection while his colleague cleaned the bed she had been occupying. Somhlahlo asked where the people who accompanied her were, as he wanted them to go and buy her clothes.
“Both males were present when Somhlahlo told my cousin to come and take 'this thing' and that they must show it to their friends, too, while I was still putting on my clothes. On our way back, my house-mate called my manager at work while I was asleep and later on, a social worker sent by my manager arrived around 8 or 9 am, followed by my manager later,” she said.
Mxenge’s manager and the social worker accompanied her to her home on the same day. “All the time we were travelling, the foetus was carried by me because my house-mate was afraid. We waited until around 4/5 in the afternoon before burying the body in the garden,” she explained.
Describing Mxenge’s psychological state, Pupa executive director Khanyisa Dunjwa said the victim was in pain, distraught, hurt, frustrated, and did not know what to do with the foetus. She said the burial of the foetus in the garden was common practice in the village, as many families bury their loved ones in their yards.
She said the organisation took it upon itself to support the women emotionally. Dunjwa said that Pipa would continue to offer psychosocial support to both young women and advocated for the nurse to be punished for his wrongdoings. The organisation has since lodged a formal complaint with the Eastern Cape Department of Health (ECDoH).
“The Department has acted swiftly on the matter. An investigation started on February 27, and the victim and her friend gave statements on March 2 to investigators in the department. We want the health department to undress the issue of unfriendly youth services, we need all health providers to practice the Batho Pele principles, and we would like the perpetrator removed from the system because his actions were inhumane and degrading,” said Dunjwa.
According to a statement released by the department, it will establish the facts from each party involved to aid in the investigation. The statement further said that the nurse in question has been removed from the maternity ward and the Health Centre until the investigation is concluded.
“We are concerned that such an incident could have happened at our facility. Such behaviour is unacceptable, and should the allegations be proven true, proper disciplinary action will be taken against the official. We cannot afford to have such allegations against the department. Such will not be tolerated,” said Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth.
The South African Nursing Council (SANC) said that they were also aware of the allegations made by Mxenge against Somhlahlo but were unaware of the petition on the Change.org site. The council stipulated that the matter would be between the SANC and the practitioner in line with the SANC mandate.
“The matter will be investigated through the relevant procedures and structures of the SANC. Each case is investigated based on its merits, and due process is followed in line with regulatory frameworks and Standard Operating Procedures,” said SANC’s Registrar and CEO, Professor Ntombifikile Mtshali.