Medical community speaks out against suspension of Professor Ebrahim Variava

Professor Ebrahim Variava.
Professor Ebrahim Variava.
  • About 250 medical professionals have condemned the suspension of Professor Ebrahim Variava, Head of Internal Medicine at Klerksorp Tshepong hospital.
  • Variava's suspension, they say, is not in the interest of patients or the hospital as his 20 years of service has yielded important achievements.
  • It is still unclear why Variava was suspended, his colleagues in the health community said.

Members of the medical community have condemned the suspension of Professor Ebrahim Variava, Head of Internal Medicine at Klerksorp Tshepong hospital, asking the North West Department of Health to reverse its decision.

It is unclear at this stage why he has been suspended. However, according to Professor Neil Martinson it is alleged that Variava brought the department into disrepute.

250 top medical professionals, as well as the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society (SAHCS) condemned the suspension, saying it is not in the interest of patients nor the hospital.

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250 medical professional signed a statement condemning the suspension, including, among others, SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) President Professor Glenda Gray, Chief Executive Director of the Perinatal Research Unit at Wits University Professor Neil Martinson, SAMRC director Professor Shabir Madhi, Head of Paediatrics at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital Professor Sithembiso Velaphi and centre for respiratory diseases and meningitis at the NICD Professor Cheryl Cohen.

Added to the list are many more of Variava's clinical and research colleagues.

"It is extremely worrying that at the precise time when the epidemic is rapidly rising, that the leader of this department is suspended," they said.

"The best interests of patients and the hospital, and its community are clearly not served by the suspension of Professor Variava.

"We call on the Department of Health to withdraw his suspension and urgently consider dialogue to resolve their differences."

No warning 

Variava was suspended apparently "without warning" on Monday.

He has worked at the hospital for two decades, according to a press statement and was seemingly vocal about his concerns over medical stockouts - both to the department and in the media.

"He has raised concerns to the leadership of the North West Department of Health about repeated and lengthy drug stockouts, particularly of frequently used, antibiotics for common infections, and medications required for patients in ICU. 

"When it appeared that no-one was listening, as recommended by the findings of the Life Esidimeni Inquiry, he raised the issue on other platforms," the statement said.

"This action shocked his clinical, teaching and research colleagues. 

"His suspension comes at a time of national disaster when medical professionals, particularly those expert in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with severe medical illness are most required," the statement said.


"We feel none of the poorly drafted charges bears any relation to Professor Variava's conduct and dedication to both patient care and academia," it added.

The group said Variava has prioritsed patient care and has made important achievements in his work.

"His dedication has contributed to this peripheral hospital becoming a centre of clinical training and research excellence and an integral part of the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof Variava is a medical activist and speaks out for sick people."

The statement added that Variava was an internationally recognised scholar and has published about 90 peer reviewed articles in international journals.

He also conducted numerous studies on the treatment and epidemiology of HIV, TB and drug resistant TB.

"He has been integral in providing clinical care for patients with MDR and XDR TB and has sat on advisory panels for the treatment of HIV and drug resistant TB.

"In collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand and the North West Department of Health he has ensured that medical students (including those returning from Cuba) and medical specialists are trained in the care of life-threatening and commonly occurring conditions."

The group said that almost all Covid-19 patients in the North West are admitted to Variava's department at Tshepong Hospital.

The department did not respond to comment by the time of publication. Their comment will be added once received.

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