A shocking response

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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.

Abdul Ebrahim (52), a patient at RK Khan Hospital who has since died, made headlines 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 in poor health, 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 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-appointed MEC for Health Nomagugu-Simelane Zulu appropriately noted that there would be an investigation. She sympathised 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.

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

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

• Kaveel Singh is a journalist at News24 based in Durban.

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