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How Life Esidimeni crisis has hit other provinces

Family members of psychiatric patients who died earlier this year hold an ‘Esidimeni 37’ prayer vigil outside Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s offices. The 37 patients died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni into the care of NGOs. Findings of the investigation into the tragedy would be released next month, health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba said.
Esidimeni Family members of psychiatric patients who died earlier this year hold an ‘Esidimeni 37’ prayer vigil outside Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s offices. The 37 patients died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni into the care of NGOs. Findings of the investigation into the tragedy would be released next month, health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba said.
Image: Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

 

Until last year‚ the Mpumalanga health department had always depended on Gauteng to take in its patients in need of mental healthcare as it does not have a psychiatric hospital of its own.

When the Gauteng health department decided to start moving patients from Life Esidimeni into NGOs‚ Gauteng reviewed its understanding with Mpumalanga‚ leaving the province stranded‚ not knowing what to do with its influx of patients.

Mpumalanga then entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Limpopo province‚ which despite its own constraints‚ has taken in patients transferred from its neighbouring province.

It was not immediately clear whether Mpumalanga footed the bill for its patients in Limpopo.

This was revealed by officials from both Mpumalanga and Limpopo‚ who were testifying before the SA Human Rights Commission on Wednesday. The commission was probing the state of mental healthcare in the country following the deaths of over 140 patients who died after they were moved from Esidimeni to unlicensed NGOs‚ some of whom had no infrastructure‚ medication‚ food or staff to properly care for the ill.

Sarah Gumede of the Mpumalanga health department told the commission that several unlicensed NPOs had mushroomed in the province‚ particularly in the KwaMhlanga area‚ since the closure of Life Esidimeni.

Gumede said these organisations were not claiming any funds from the department but relied on the patients’ social services grant to survive.

Cheryl Nelson‚ also of the Mpumalanga health department‚ told the commission that the province had seen an increase in the number of patients in need of mental healthcare. She attributed this to the high levels of substance abuse seen in the mostly rural province.

Mpumalanga is also without an oncology department and relies on Gauteng to take in its patients.

Nelson explained that‚ until 2014‚ the province was without a tertiary institution‚ resulting in a shortage of medical professionals in the area. The University of Mpumalanga‚ however‚ still does not cater for a medical degree. 

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