Manto needs a new liver

2009-11-30 05:08

FORMER health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is gravely ill and

may have to undergo another liver transplant, her second in two-and-a-half


Doctors conducted a series of tests this week to confirm a

diagnosis that the liver she received from a teenage suicide victim two years

ago was being rejected by her body.

Her physician, Professor Jeff Wing, confirmed on Friday that the

former minister had been hospitalised and that “there are issues related to the

first transplant”.

He said the cause of her illness remained uncertain but could be

the rejection of the liver she received on March 14 2007. He said her condition

was stable.

Tshabala-Msimang has been in the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg

Academic Hospital’s private Folateng ward for the past two weeks. City Press

understands that she has already undergone one ­medical procedure.

Wing said he was waiting for the results of the tests before

deciding if she would have to be operated on.

Doctors have apparently told Tshabalala-Msimang to prepare for a

second liver transplant.

Tshabalala-Msimang (69) was health minister from 1999 to September

last year. She was widely known as “Dr No” for her refusal to provide

antiretroviral medicine (ARVs) to Aids patients. Instead, she promoted the use

of olive oil, garlic, beetroot and lemon juice.

The possibility that she might receive yet another liver comes

against the background of the commemoration of World Aids Day on Tuesday and

accusations that Tshabalala-Msimang and former president Thabo Mbeki were

responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of South Africans by denying

them access to ARVs.

Tshabalala-Msimang is the African Union’s goodwill ambassador and

champion for the improvement of maternal and child health.

Any liver transplant would have to be approved by a panel of

specialists at the transplant clinic and a second transplant would only be

carried out if there was a “particularly strong motivation” for it.

City Press understands that Wing has yet to present her case to a

panel at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, which meets on the first

Wednesday of every month.

The centre specialises in transplants and is where

Tshabalala-Msimang received the first liver.

Belinda Rossi, a transplant co-ordinator at the centre, said she

could not discuss the specifics of Tshabalala-Msimang’s case but that in general

“the expectation is that one transplant is for life”.

Rossi said a patient would have to be psychologically screened and

their medical track record scrutinised to determine whether they took medication

as prescribed and did the requisite follow-ups.

Rossi said if there was more than one candidate for a liver the

patient with the greater need would get it.

“The livers are scored,” she said. “The sickest liver and person

with the most life-threatening condition would get the liver.”

A storm of controversy erupted in August 2007, when the Sunday

Times published an article headlined: Manto: A drunk and a thief, and suggested

that the cirrhosis which necessitated her first liver transplant was

alcohol-induced and that other patients her age would not have qualified for the


The paper said despite the “gift of life” she had received she was

still drinking and damaging the new liver. The paper also claimed that during a

2005 hospital stay in Cape Town, while undergoing shoulder surgery, she had had

alcohol smuggled into her room and was reportedly drunk a number of times.

Tshabalala-Msimang was also convicted of stealing from a patient

when she was superintendent of Botswana’s Athlone Hospital in the late 1970s. At

the time, she called the reports “garbage”, “false” and “the lowest form of


After her first transplant Wing said she had suffered from

auto-immune hepatitis, where the body’s immune system attacks liver cells,

resulting in cirrhosis, scar tissue and progressive liver failure.

In answer to parliamentary questions in October 2007

Tshabalala-Msimang said a liver transplant cost about R450?000 a patient.

City Press could not get comment from her family last night.

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