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KZN HEALTH MEC’S RESPONSE TO LIFE ESIDIMENI TRAGEDY

2017/05/09 10:42:18 AM

Mental Health is a neglected area world-wide and more resources are required to ensure the efficient deinstitutionalisation of mental health patients, says MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo. Speaking at a UKZN-hosted event to present KZN‘s response on the Life Esidimeni tragedy in Gauteng.

 
 Life Esdimeni: A Tragedy Never to be Repeated,
was the theme of a UKZN-hosted commemorative
event with KZN’s MEC for Health,
Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
 Mental Health is a neglected area world-wide and more resources are required to ensure the efficient deinstitutionalisation of mental health patients, says MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo. Speaking at a UKZN-hosted event to present KZN‘s response on the Life Esidimeni tragedy in Gauteng in which 94 vulnerable mentally ill patients died mainly due to neglect and poor management, Dhlomo apologised for the tragedy. ‘What happened in Gauteng is a tragedy for all of us and I am apologising on behalf of our Department. 

It is something we are not proud of. Deinstitutionalisation of patients must be done systematically, with adequate provision made for community services,’ said Dhlomo. Dhlomo said he would rely on UKZN’s Head of Psychiatry, Professor Bonginkosi Chiliza, who organised the commemorative gathering in Durban, to advise him on how to improve the situation in KZN. A report on the tragedy by Health Ombudsman and former Principal and Vice-Chancellor of UKZN, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, painted a grim picture of community facilities which were neither ready nor equipped to take patients with chronic psychiatric illnesses. Makgoba found that pneumonia, followed by uncontrolled seizures, was the most common cause of death of the patients. Makgoba’s report further stated that the decision taken by the Gauteng Department of Health to terminate and relocate/transfer patients from Life Esidimeni centres precipitously was fundamentally flawed, irrational, unwise and inhumane.

 Following the announcement, Gauteng MEC Qedani Mahlangu, resigned and the Department assured loved ones of the deceased that the situation would be rectified. Said Chiliza: ‘What is striking to us as psychiatrists is that we were informed that the Gauteng Health MEC did not take the advice of the clinicians. How then do we advise on human rights abuses and ensure that we work together to find a solution?’ UKZN’s Dr Suvira Ramlal commented on the situation of mental healthcare in KZN: ‘There is a crisis when it comes to caring for psychiatric patients. There are limited beds and other resources. We are sitting on a potential time bomb and we need to solve the crisis.’ Dhlomo called on the private sector to assist with funding and for UKZN psychiatrists to advise him on essential drugs that would assist in the rehabilitation of patients. 

MaryAnn Francis

Maryann Francis

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