The face of KZN’s cancer crisis

DURBAN – The oncology crisis in KwaZulu-Natal has left hearts broken and families yearning for an explanation for why the provincial Health Department and the government have not done anything to save cancer patients’ lives.At least two people whose loved ones died of cancer put the blame “squarely” on the department, with calls for the provincial government to intervene before “more lives are lost”.

On April 3, Jacqui Luke’s sister Annie Masra died of cervical cancer at Stanger Hospital. Luke  told the Daily News that the department was responsible for her loss.

This follows a report by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) which found the department had violated cancer patients’ rights to access health-care services.

The SAHRC investigated following a DA complaint in February about the state of oncology in the province.

Luke said the findings were a testimony to her claim.

“Had my sister received proper cancer treatment and care, she could have survived. Once diagnosed with cancer you need to go for treatment without missing a session. In her case, she missed a lot of sessions and she is not the only patient,” Luke said.

She said her sister had been to King Edward VIII and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central hospitals, then back to Stanger Hospital because she was told the machines were broken at Addington Hospital.

“It was sad to see my sister lying helplessly on a hospital bed while there was nothing I could do to help her.

“We were the only siblings at home. It’s time for government intervention to save the lives of other cancer patients in the province,” she said.

In March, Masra told the Daily News that her legs were swollen and that she had to wear adult nappies. She said a biopsy was done in May last year and, on August 28, a doctor told her she had cervical cancer stage 3B.

The disease had also claimed the life of a 54-year-old Pietermaritzburg woman who was found to have stage2 cancer in February this year. She died on April 22.

The woman’s 29-year-old daughter, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Talking about my mother won’t change or take away the pain I’m feeling right now. We were so close. I was with her in and out of the hospital.

“On the day she passed on, I was just leaving the hospital after a visit,” she said, sobbing.

In previous media reports, the department claimed that oncologists in the province left for “greener pastures”.

However, one of the oncologists who resigned from the department rubbished this yesterday.

The oncologist, who also asked not to be named, said: “There was a time when I had to hold the fort all by myself. But one can only do so much.

“It has been physically and mentally impossible to work in these facilities.

“For me, my departure had nothing to do with greener pastures.

“I had to think of what was best for me and my family.”

The doctor said the lack of fully-functional machinery had made matters worse, and that this had been the case for many years.

“I have not seen the SAHRC report, but cancer patients and activists are not exaggerating when they talk about the sorry state of the oncology unit in the province.”

Dr Sifiso Mtshali, Health Department head, referred the Daily News to Health MEC DrSibongiseni Dhlomo’s spokesperson, Desmond Motha, who could not be reached for comment.

At a media briefing yesterday, the DA said legal opinion on the report would be at the forefront of the agenda the party was currently driving.

SAHRC Recommendations

THE SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) investigation uncovered some discrepancies in Addington Hospital’s oncology department.

These range from a critical staff shortage to dysfunctional machines.

During its investigation, the commission interviewed 11 oncology patients and staff at Addington and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central hospitals. Inspections were also conducted at both facilities.

On the day of the inspection (February 15), it was found that both the Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerator machines were not functional due to a contractual dispute with the service provider.

Interviews with staff revealed that there were delays in the provision of health-care services to oncology patients at Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospital. This, according to the report, resulted in patients waiting long periods for treatment.

Among others, the commission recommended that the department:

* Take immediate steps to repair all the machines, including CT scanners.

* Report back within 10days on:

The process to recruit a head of oncology and specialist oncologists and radiotherapists at Addington and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central hospitals.

The proposed immediate interim measures and action plan to be implemented to reduce the backlog in the provision of oncology services.

Detailed plans to be implemented to manage the current crisis.

Process initiated by the department to hand priority cases to the private sector.

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