'Will I be dead tomorrow?': Doctors speak of fears as they mourn Abdulhay Munshi

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Dr Abdulhay Munshi was allegedly killed on Wednesday.
Dr Abdulhay Munshi was allegedly killed on Wednesday.
Werner Beukes
  • Doctors and health workers came out in their numbers on Thursday to protest against the killing of anaesthetist Dr Abdulhay Munshi on Wednesday. 
  • Doctors who spoke to News24 said Munshi was known as the "gentle giantfor his kindness and compassion.
  • They said his killing has set a bad precedent for medical practitioners who might be unwilling to take on complicated cases for fear of their lives. 

Dozens of doctors and health workers dressed in scrubs gathered outside Dr Abdulhay Munshi's family home on Thursday to show their support for Munshi, an anaesthetist, who was gunned down in Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon.

Doctors who spoke to News24, whom did not reveal their names, said they felt as though they were on their own without any protection, saying "society is not looking out for us".

READ | Doctor accused of culpable homicide shot dead in Johannesburg

Speaking to News24, a doctor, who had worked with Munshi, said he was known as the "gentle giant" for his calm demeanour and kind disposition.

"He was really someone to look up to, you can ask anyone here - even the young people, everyone standing here right now - everyone knew him as the gentle giant, he just did his best."

"I met Dr Munshi quite a few years ago after I was in private practice, I didn't know who he was, but we would greet each other here and there," the doctor said.

"When I lost a lot of work, without knowing me, he went around to various practices and got the secretaries to call me to make sure I had enough work to keep me going for months to come.

"He always phoned me and would say, 'there is work available, can you cover this?', and he didn't know me from anywhere," the doctor said.

Outrageous

"For something like this to happen to him is just outrageous, not only with his death but what happened to him over the past year, it's ridiculous," he added.

READ | Amy'Leigh kidnapping: 4 found guilty, sentenced

Munshi was shot dead in Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon and his killers are still at large.

He was arrested last year on charges of culpable homicide along with co-accused paediatric surgeon Dr Peter Beale following the death of a 10-year-old shortly after an operation.

The case dismayed the medical community which insisted there was due process to follow instead of approaching the courts.

Doctors said should the killing of doctors become the norm, they would be discouraged to take on tricky or complicated cases.

Speaking to News24, a fellow anaesthetist reiterated the bad precedent Munshi's killing set in the medical field.

"All of us know the risks going in, nothing is without risks in the medical field.

"With this happening, you question your own career choice. You wake up in the morning and say to yourself: 'If I make a mistake today, will I be dead tomorrow?' It's not the solution and ultimately it will impact on patient care."

"Defensive medicine is a trend these days for fear of litigation, and if not litigation now this. At the end of the day, the patient suffers."

Two close colleagues of Munshi's, who also spoke to News24, said there had been suspect decisions made in the case of Munshi and Beale.

They said following their colleague's death, doctors like themselves would be less willing to take on tricky cases for fear of their lives.

"Which doctor would want to do a serious, high-risk case if this is the case?" one doctor asked.

Bitter, under threat

"Not only are we sad, but we are also disappointed and I'm quite bitter."

The doctor said he was part of a team which conducted the first simultaneous kidney and heart transplant in Africa.

"Do you think if we are under threat like this that we will take another case like that?

Doctors gathered to protest against the killing of
Doctors gathered to protest against the killing of Dr Abdulhay Munshi.
News24 News24/Azarrah Karrim

"What leaves a particularly bad taste for us now is, have you seen the list of doctors who sacrificed their lives [to Covid-19].

"We have [been] in personal protective equipment [PPE] for six months now, when we take our PPE off what do we see? Our colleagues being murdered in cold blood," he added.

"This is a deep thinker, quiet, introverted person who couldn't harm anyone. It's not his nature.

Compassionate

"Why this would happen to a caring compassionate doctor is just beyond us," he said.

Another doctor, an anaesthetist who worked closely with Munshi, added he was not only humble but also skilled - someone who did neurosurgery and cardiac surgery as well as other disciplines.

He said while Munshi did the right thing for the child who died, he was still crucified.

"In terms of the complication that happened [to Sayed], it was a surgery complication that he in fact diagnosed correctly and applied the correct treatment," he added, saying the availability of equipment, which would normally be found in a trauma clinic, complicated the situation.

"He did the right thing it was just probably too late and for that he has been crucified.

"There must be a thorough investigation and the perpetrators must be found," he added.

ALSO READ | Killing of Dr Abdulhay Munshi is 'outrageous and deplorable' – SAMA

He expressed anger at how Munshi and Beale had been treated by law enforcement, saying they needed to work with medical professionals and not against them.

"The profession needs the support of the authorities because we have to be able to practice medicine safely in this country, and getting arrested before there has been any inquiry about what happened because of a poor outcome is completely untenable, it will completely destroy the practice of medicine," the doctor said.

Another doctor, who worked with Munshi for a brief time, added he was a "kind person" who went out of his way to help others.

"You could ask him for anything anytime and he would come out and help, such a kind person, a humble person and always just very pleasant to be around.

"He was such an overall pleasant man, a humble man and always such a gentleman," the young doctor said.

"Just the principle of what happened, we want justice for Dr Munshi, the circumstances surrounding [his death] are very suspicious and very odd.

"If we don't get justice, that puts our entire desire for just coming to work in question," he said.

He added incidents like this set a dangerous precedent for other doctors.

"This just sets up a precedent for anybody to come and harm us and take action against us should they think they have not received justice."

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