'Sewage spills from the roof' - Wits dental students complain about terrible working conditions

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Students at the Wits Oral Health department complained about terrible working conditions.
Students at the Wits Oral Health department complained about terrible working conditions.
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  • Wits University oral health department students have accused the institution of making them work in sub-par conditions.
  • Students' clinical training was put on hold after a fire at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.
  • The institution says they are working hard to ensure students catch up on their clinical training.


Wits University dental students have accused the institution of making them work in crowded and untenable conditions.

Students claim that since the Wits Oral Health department was moved from Braamfontein to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital in 2001, they have been forced to work in cramped spaces with inadequate equipment.

The fire that damaged the hospital this year made things worse, the Wits Dental Council representatives said.

Speaking to News24, the students, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said: "Wits charges … students the highest tuition fees in Africa, yet we [are] training under inhumane conditions to the extent of sewage spills from the roof [on]to clinical staff and students. From the beginning it was clear that the space was insufficient, even when it was clear that the premises posed a hazard to health and safety and even posed a death trap in the event of a fire, but [sic] the cries were ignored."

Damaged ceiling tiles hanging from roof
Students at the Wits Oral Health department are complaining about terrible working conditions.

This is not the first time dental students have raised their grievances. In 2018, they sent a memorandum to the university complaining about poor working conditions. At the time, the university promised to respond to their complaints.

Now, the students say they again raised their concerns in August, in a meeting with the dean of health sciences, Professor Shabir Madhi.

"We expressed discontent with the clinical facilities … [that] there is a constant smell of gas in the lab, the infrastructure is worn off [sic] and damaged, to the extent that the wallboards which are located in front of our feet fall on us all the time, we get hurt, but we have to continue training because we have to complete our clinical requirements and pass. The gas even stops working amid practicals."

The students said the fire at the hospital earlier this year had made matters worse. It had led to delays in clinical training for final year students.

'Fully aware of situation'

Parts of the hospital are still closed following the fire, but dental students are training in a small facility at the campus.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel admitted the fire had affected students clinical training.

She said:

It is unfortunate that a fire ravaged the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital earlier this year. This impacted severely on Wits' clinical training platform and the various units that are based in the hospital, including the School of Oral Health Sciences.

"The university is fully aware of the situation and is working tirelessly to ensure that the academic programme is completed, that its quality and integrity is maintained, and that our students graduate with the requisite competencies and skills required to practice oral healthcare."

She said the university was trying to resolve the matter.

"To this end, the Dean of Health Sciences met with students from the school last week Wednesday and again with final year dental students on Saturday, where these critical matters were discussed. The university is also in discussion with the hospital management and the Gauteng Department of Health to ensure that we resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

Patel did not respond to specific questions about training conditions.

She said there was misinformation regarding the closure of the school.

"We would like to state unequivocally that no such decision has been made by the university, and we encourage staff, students, parents, the media and members of the community to read communications from the faculty and not rely on some of the fake news circulating on social media."

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