UN highlights bad planning in deaths of 37 mental patients

2016-12-03 19:22
Virginia Machpelah, 50, was one of the 36 psychiatric patients who died after being transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni. (Supplied)

Virginia Machpelah, 50, was one of the 36 psychiatric patients who died after being transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni. (Supplied)

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Cape Town - United Nations human rights experts have called for the establishment of a "clear and sustainable" deinstitutionalisation policy and plan of action following the deaths of 37 patients after they were transferred out of a South African government psychiatric facility earlier this year.

"South Africa must set up a policy framework to guide its deinstitutionalisation process," the experts said in a statement.

This should include, "a plan of action with timelines and benchmarks, the redistribution of public funds from institutions to community services, and the development of adequate housing and community support for persons with disabilities, such as housing assistance, home and family support, and respite care".

The patients died after being transferred from the Life Esidimeni facility in Johannesburg to numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) after the department cancelled its contract as part of cost-cutting measures.

Life Esidimeni looked after about 2 000 patients and was funded by the department.

Health ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, was appointed by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to investigate the incident in September.

Right to life

READ: Too many unanswered questions about Esidimeni 37

The UN experts said the relocation had been badly planned and that the Gauteng Department of Health has transferred more than half of the patients "under the care of NGOs with inadequate capacity and resources to assist people requiring high-level, specialised and intensive non-stop care".

"While deinstitutionalisation is the right approach, when implemented without a plan based in human rights that increases community-based services, and provides adequate housing and financial resources, it can have fatal consequences, as this situation illustrates," they said.

"Transferring persons with disabilities to unsuitable locations without their consent and adequate support may result in further grave abuses to their right to physical and mental integrity, health and well-being, an adequate standard of living including adequate housing, and places them at risk of extreme poverty, homelessness and loss of dignity."

READ: Families demand answers for deaths of 37 psych patients

The experts said it was the state's duty to protect and guarantee the right to life of people with disabilities by "deterring and preventing abuses by non-state actors".

The Gauteng Department of Health has started an investigation, but the findings are not yet available. The South African Human Rights Commission and the new Health Ombudsman were also probing the matter.

The UN experts were concerned that the findings of the investigation were not yet available.

"We urge the authorities to provide the results of any judicial and other independent investigation as soon as possible, and to explain what measures they have taken to prevent further casualties and protect the rights of those affected by this situation."

The Office of the Health Ombudsman was not immediately able to confirm the status of the investigation.

Read more on:    un  |  healthcare
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