Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lethal Health Services

About 3 months ago I received the shocking news that one of my ex-work colleagues had suddenly departed this life. While attending his funeral I learned that he had apparently contracted meningitis. He was a perfectly healthy and active 45-year old male when he suddenly developed severe headaches. He was booked of sick and one week later he ended up in a State hospital in Pretoria. The hospital staff couldn’t find anything wrong with him and he was discharged. His condition got worse and he was again admitted to hospital, where he died about two days later. According to reports from his close friends and family, the hospital was unable to diagnose that he was in fact suffering from meningitis. Don’t ask me how come he ended up in a State Hospital. I was never too involved in his personal life, and can only presume that he was one of the unfortunate people in this country who couldn’t afford a medical aid or the enormous expenses associated with private health care.

Private Health Care – A Booming Business!

Private health care and private hospitals have become a booming business in South Africa, and their services are reserved exclusively for the wealthy only. If you fall ill with a life-threatening illness or if you require urgent medical treatment due to a car accident, gunshot wound, etc... the chances are pretty good that you will die if you don’t belong to a medical aid scam (scheme). If you are transported to a State Hospital, then it’s tickets for life! You’ll stand a far beter chance of survival if they drop you off at the local zoo --- in the cage were they keep the gorillas!

Over 60 000 children, aged between a month and five years, die in South Africa each year, according to a report released at a health summit in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"Many of the children die at home having had prior contact to health services," reads the document, penned by a national committee appointed to investigate the causes of child deaths in the country.

It was circulated at the Maternal, Child and Women's Health Summit in Boksburg.

The committee was set up by former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in February last year to review maternal, perinatal and childhood deaths.

Its findings are backed by Development Bank of South Africa reports of last year and, more recently, by reports prepared by academics for the Lancet medical journal.

The reports suggested the country had the correct healthcare policies and guidelines, but was struggling to implement them, causing thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The summit, the first of its kind, was intended to examine ways of meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals on healthcare.

Some of the major causes of childhood death listed in the report include diarrhoea, lower respiratory tract infections, conditions associated with HIV/Aids and malnutrition.

Reasons given for maternal deaths included a lack of skills by practitioners in performing caesarean sections, dealing with obstetric emergencies, administering anaesthesia and lack of adherence to protocol.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Tuesday told hundreds of healthcare practitioners he was "shocked" when briefed by chairpersons on ministerial committees about the issue.

Suggestions to reduce deaths included improving the skills of doctors and nurses, strengthening post-natal care and improving quality and coverage of reproductive health services.

"We cannot allow a single woman to die in childbirth or neonate to die because of our negligence ... It will be criminal for us to allow any of these things to happen. Unfortunately there is no other word for it but criminal."

A third of deaths among women and children were avoidable, he said.

Motsoaledi said all recommendations would be taken seriously and implemented "as soon as possible". Health practitioners would discuss at the summit how to implement them.

He noted that many countries poorer than South Africa had much better health systems.

"If they can achieve better health outcomes with fewer resources, why can't we? It is not acceptable that mothers die from avoidable causes."

Motsoaledi acknowledged some areas needed more resources, but said there were many resources not being used efficiently. – Sapa


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