Guest Column

Maggots in your mouth? Don't film it

2019-07-07 07:13
Committee lists major issues to fix at Edendale and Fort Napier hospitals.

Committee lists major issues to fix at Edendale and Fort Napier hospitals. (File)

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One wonders what high horse health department officials were riding when they made statements about an incident in which maggots were found in a patient's mouth. There was no mention of action against staff - just an insult to the man's family, writes Kaveel Singh.

Initial comments from the Department of Health in KwaZulu-Natal, after a Durban man was found with maggots infesting his mouth during his hospital stay, are nothing less than appalling.

The patient at RK Khan Hospital, who has since died, Abdul Ebrahim, 52, made headlines this week after a shocking video of the parasitic creatures in his mouth went viral.

In the video, his son Azaad vehemently questioned why hospital staff had not, at the least, brushed his father's teeth. It is thought that he was left untreated for days.

The visibly unwell Ebrahim was at the hospital for gangrene treatment. He was an unwell man, having had two strokes and triple bypass surgery in the past nine years.

How does KZN's Department of Health respond? To maggots. Something found in the dead.

They question why the family recorded the horrendous sight and further inform the media that they were not equipped to understand the issue because of their limited knowledge of medicine.

The initial statement didn't once appear to consider the patient or mention of an investigation. After cursory condolences, here's the first line of their response to the video: "Spokesperson for the KZN Department of Health Ncumisa Mafunda said: 'The Department is extremely concerned about the filming and distribution of footage depicting a patient who is currently receiving care within one of its facilities. Such an act, even if perpetrated by relatives of the patient, as it sometimes happens, constitutes a violation of the patient's inherent right to privacy and dignity.'"

The next line from Mafunda is even more shocking: "Health professionals who were attending to a particular patient were concerned but not alarmed by certain developments during treatment…"

Mafunda then said they "discourage media practitioners from attempting to simplify" medical issues.

One wonders what high horse the department officials were riding when they made the statements. There was no mention of an investigation. No mention of action against staff. Nothing! Did they think of this human being? A person with a family, with a son, a wife, a brother, a mother. A poor man from a poor part of their province.

No. Spin doctoring appears to have taken centre stage. Our department officials chose to hit back at a poor, deceased man's family. A family who cared for him.

"How can we circumvent this?" they must have thought. "How do we bypass this obstacle?"

You are the health department! People come first. Care comes first. Love should come first. Not the terse, unkind, inhumane drivel sent out to media houses.

Perhaps department officials should note before pointing out the media's lack of medical training, that even the MEC is not trained in health. Yes. Your boss? She is not a doctor. However, it does not take a rocket scientist (or a specialist in this case) to know that maggots in a man's mouth while AT YOUR HOSPITAL is a problem.

Doing damage control, the department issued a statement on Thursday evening and newly elected MEC for Health Nomagugu-Simelane Zulu appropriately noted that there would be an investigation. She continued to sympathise with the family and conceded the incident should not have taken place.

However, one cannot help but think that the knee-jerk reaction from the department was arrogance at the highest level.

We had gotten used to this under the weak leadership of former health MEC in KZN, Sibongiseni Dhlomo. Under the "good" doctor, the department was placed under administration and an oncology crisis made its way to Parliament where Dhlomo narrowly escaped any real punishment for his less than poor leadership.

His boss and good friend, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, chose not to punish or remove Dhlomo. This, even though his action, or inaction, cost the lives of citizens.

The effects of the oncology crisis are something thousands in the province still feel today with scans and follow-up appointments often many months apart, depriving critically ill patients of dire medical care.

Now, under the charming and ever smiling Simelane-Zulu, we appear to have a crack in the already loose foundation.

Simelane-Zulu, a lawyer by profession and the outgoing spokesperson for the ANC in KZN will have a lot to account for as the leader of this vital portfolio.

Under her tenure, she will either leave a legacy of destruction or genuine hope for the ever-suffering people of KZN.

She will have to be hard on many of her own, because reform in the provincial health sector can only be achieved once poor staff and officials are removed.

Ultimately, she will have to choose between showing mercy to officials or the people of KZN, who have not received nearly enough of care from any elected official.

Show me an official who uses public hospitals. Who takes public transport.

Simelane-Zulu must reform our health system to the point where she herself is happy to use it and not fall back on private medical care that only a select few can afford.

If she does not, she runs the risk of one day leaving office with a stain on her leadership. Like Dhlomo, a man who does not have the respect of many because of his mismanagement and arrogance.

- Singh is a journalist at News24 based in Durban.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    kwazulu-natal  |  department of health
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