TACKLING the health crisis in the Eastern Cape is one of the most important campaigns since activists took to the streets forcing our government to make antiretrovirals available in the public sector. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) continues its proud history of activism and advocacy today along with the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition – a collection of organisations dedicated to making the right to health a reality in the Eastern Cape.
The TAC and the coalition will march on Bhisho tomorrow to make our demands known and say that we will not rest until, as the constitution promises, everyone, even those of us who live in the Eastern Cape, has access to healthcare services. The Eastern Cape is one of the most beautiful places in South Africa, but stop at one of the clinics or hospitals and you are likely to be met by an inhumane situation of staff shortages, drug stock-outs and equipment failure.
There was a real effort to improve matters when Dr Siva Pillay was still the head of the Eastern Cape health department, but since his departure matters in the province have gone from bad to worse.
The TAC has driven a campaign in the Eastern Cape to strengthen the public health system. One of our focus areas has been the OR Tambo district, a vast rural area with high levels of poverty and unemployment.
Most of the residents rely on the public healthcare system and they are being failed. Our members in these areas report not receiving the antiretroviral medicines they need and having to stand in queues for hours to see a nurse.
In response to medicine stock-outs, the TAC has tried to sort out problems at the Mthatha depot. We deployed more than 20 volunteers to the depot to assist in packing and sending medicines to the various clinics and hospitals.
These volunteers worked long hours at the depot and other facilities to ensure that the drugs reached the patients. However, since the TAC's departure from the depot, matters have again deteriorated.
There are many such stories of mismanagement and dysfunction.
We have often tried to engage the provincial government on these and other issues, but the MEC keeps postponing meetings. We cannot accept this indifference to our suffering any longer:
- Our people's basic human rights are violated daily. It has to stop;
- Poor political leadership has contributed to the collapsing public health system, with cadre deployment resulting in high levels of corruption. It has to stop;
- Patients are increasingly using their last money to travel to a clinic or hospital only to be told they do not have the drugs they need. It has to stop;
- Too many times ill people are forced to wait overnight in long queues to see a health worker. It has to stop;
- Ambulances are almost never available. For many people this means they will die. It has to stop;
- Our health workers are not being paid what is due to them. It has to stop;
- Nurses and doctors are left to look patients in the eye and tell them they are unable to assist them because the equipment is not working. It has to stop.
The TAC is, again, ready to pick up the baton and to fight for quality healthcare services for all. We invite everyone to join this struggle for a more humane Eastern Cape.
One of many casualties in the Eastern Cape has been baby Ikho, whose name loosely translates into the English words "there is a man" pointing to the joy his family felt at his arrival. This joy turned into grief when the hospital he had been admitted to for a chest infection ran out of oxygen and he died hours later.
It is here in our beloved province that we must start to demand better services, better provision and better healthcare for all, because it is possible. Baby Ikho's death needs to be a clarion call to all of us, that the time to stand up is here.
Anele Yawa, Treatment Action Campaign Eastern Cape and national chairperson