International humanitarian medical group, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) says several foreign nationals have been turned away from public hospitals in Tshwane by activists in what the non-governmental organization called an intensifying xenophobic climate and politicization of health care. MSF said ongoing “xenophobic protests” outside the Kalafong Provincial Tertiary Hospital were preventing patients, including migrants, from accessing the facility.
“These actions must be rejected and should trigger urgent action by health authorities and leaders to protect access to healthcare for all,” MSF in South Africa said. “Operation Dudula supporters have been protesting outside the hospital for three weeks, chanting threatening statements through loud-hailers and preventing many from entering the facility.” Sibusiso Ndlovu, health promotion supervisor at MSF in Tshwane, said the protesters were demanding that foreign nationals be removed from public hospitals.
Just this morning (on Thursday), several people were turned away by the protesters based on their appearance and accent,” said Ndlovu. He said the protesters were putting hospital staff under “immense pressure” to eject all foreigners being treated at the hospital. “They have even demanded that critically ill patients who are migrants must be ‘unplugged’ and taken out,” said Ndlovu. MSF said hostility to serving migrants in South Africa’s health facilities was intensifying, “fuelled by inflammatory and political statements from government officials, including Limpopo Health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba”, who was recently recorded berating a Zimbabwean patient in a health-care facility, insisting that foreigners were overburdening the health-care system.
The international NGO said if migrants were fearful for their safety when entering or leaving health facilities, and if health workers were placed under pressure “to behave as immigration officers, the consequences will be felt across the population”. Dr Tasanya Chinsamy, medical activity manager at MSF in Tshwane, said if non-citizens stayed away from hospitals, infectious diseases could fester unnoticed in South Africa.
“One major concern as the politicisation of health care expands is that serious notifiable diseases could go unrecorded and untreated, which will inhibit the public health-care system’s overall capacity and ability to contain infectious disease outbreaks,” said Chinsamy. According to MSF, one of the patients denied care at Kalafong Hospital this week was a 37-weeks pregnant migrant woman with high blood pressure, who instead had to seek help from a local clinic. “Clinics are not equipped to provide tertiary care for complex cases such as these which require access to a specialist and certain medications that are only available at hospital level,” Chinsamy said.
“When patients are denied the appropriate level of care initially their conditions often worsen and they return as emergency patients. Their risk of becoming more ill or dying is thus greatly increased, as is the cost to the government. Nobody benefits and the most vulnerable suffer disproportionately regardless of their nationality or legal status.” The NGO said denial of health care at Kalafong Hospital “is being caused by protesters but there is an increasing trend in Gauteng whereby migrants are denied access to services by facility staff”.
MSF, through its operations in Tshwane, said it had recorded several instances of migrants “with a legitimate right of access to health” being denied services. “Many of these instances involve access to maternal and child health, which is guaranteed under South Africa’s Constitution and through various laws and health-care policies,” the NGO added. MSF appealed to national and provincial health authorities to ensure that gatherings and threatening groups were immediately removed from hospital entrances, and that all people in the country requiring health services were properly assisted with impartial medical care and treated with dignity.