Indian statesman Mahatma Gandhi said: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” If there is truth in the words spoken by the man who once graced our shores, we are a contemptable one indeed.
If you have a strong stomach, download and read health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba’s report on the Life Esidimeni saga, the horrific account of the deaths of more than 94 of Gauteng’s most vulnerable people.
In it, you will learn how severely disabled patients were herded on to bakkies and dumped at nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). Some patients were strapped down with bedsheets for the ride. Most were not accompanied by their medical records, leaving their new “caregivers” clueless about what medical conditions they suffered from.
This happened despite provincial health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s repeated assurances – even to a court – that the NGOs her officials appointed would provide the sick with better care than the hospital they came from. At the time, Mahlangu had better things to do. She was fighting an election.
The department did this to save a few bucks. Life Esidimeni was charging just short of R10 000 per month per patient, while the Gauteng health department was prepared to pay only about R3 500. And then they didn’t pay the NGOs – which they allowed to operate unlawfully – for three whole months. Many patients were so starved and dehydrated that they wasted away in their threadbare clothes. One man’s trousers were so loose they were held up by a shoelace.
This week we heard of one family that was only informed of a relative’s death after six months. What an appalling indictment – not only of the NGO and the department, but of a family who had not bothered to visit. Out of sight...
In this edition we reveal how many of these patients died in the preceding years at Life Esidimeni. We also reveal that, although the families opened an inquest docket with the police, no detective has yet been assigned to the case.
We further reveal that, when the department was informed last July that many patients had died, a senior official brushed it off as “sabotage” by Life Esidimeni, and said: “Leave it. We know what to do.”
And then they did nothing.
Had these been mentally sound patients, there would have been action and their deaths would not have been so silent.
Shame on all of us.