HIV and tuberculosis patients in Limpopo have taken Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba to the Equality Court for discrimination, hate speech and incitement after she insinuated that Aids was a black people’s disease, reports News24.
The complaint filed at the Equality Court this week reveals that in a meeting between Ramathuba and the Moutse Health Crisis Committee on 16 April, she reportedly said: “Because if I could quote what the TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) and also what one of the comrades said this week, are (sic), HIV/Aids is within the black community but the money is with the white people.”
The report says speaking on behalf of the committee, Seun Mogotji said Ramathuba should be sanctioned for “discriminating against black people living with HIV/Aids and for hate speech and incitement”. “I walked out of the said meeting and I told her that I would report her to the Equality Court. She repeated the same statement on Thobela FM when we were interviewed by the radio station,” he said.
Provincial health spokesperson Neil Shikwambana did not deny that Ramathuba was suggesting that HIV/Aids “is a black people’s disease”. He said: “The MEC was simply quoting from the SA National Aids Council’s press release dated 13 April 2018.”
The report says the meeting between the committee and Ramathuba was organised to discuss the MEC’s decision not to renew the contract between her department and NGO the Ndlovu Care Group, which treats 3,700 HIV-positive patients who also suffer from tuberculosis, on an outpatient basis. Mogotji said the NGO was not run by white people. There is only one white person in the management and a few others on the board. “But the whites who are on the board are only there because they are also donors. So, they are looking after their own interests.”
At least one person has died in Moutse, in what the HIV-positive patients fear is the province’s own version of the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Documents from a case currently before the Polokwane High Court reveal that an HIV-positive man, whose family didn’t want him to be identified, died early last month. The court papers allege the man died as a result of Ramathuba’s decision to stop funding the Ndlovu Care group and transfer the NGO’s patients to government clinics and hospitals around the area.
Ndlovu Care, which started supplying and providing medication, counselling and treatment to the more than 3,700 patients in Moutse in the early 2000s, relied on a R10m annual government subsidy. Fears are now mounting that Ramathuba’s decision not to renew its contract, which expired at the end of March, could cause many to die.
The report says some of the NGO’s patients have taken the department to court, arguing that it is dysfunctional, has incompetent staff and has neither a plan nor the capacity to deal with the numbers of patients expected to flock from Ndlovu Care to its facilities. Herriet Nkonyana, one of those who initiated the case against Ramathuba and her department, said in her affidavit that one of the patients transferred to the department’s facilities had already died.
“Since the process started one of the persons who was transferred in terms of this decision has passed on. A number of other persons who have since been transferred, myself included, are frustrated as I no longer have any access to the services I used to have access to prior to the implementation of the decision of (Ramathuba),” she wrote.
“A collapse in the service as a result of the current state of affairs will lead to defaulting and most certainly death. As already pointed out, the current state of affairs presents a distinct risk of (patients) defaulting (on treatment) which in turn means those who default face the prospect of losing their lives.”
In April the Moutse Health Crisis Committee, of which Nkonyana is a member, agreed through a court order with Ramathuba to suspend the transfer of any of the 3,700 patients from the NGO to its facilities until: the office of the Health Standards Compliance has evaluated whether clinics and hospitals in the area had capacity to accommodate its patients; Ramathuba and the NGO must prepare a joint plan for the transfer of patients from the NGO to government’s facilities; and Ramathuba and the Ndlovu Care Group will sign a memorandum which regulates how the patients will be transferred from the NGO to government clinics and hospitals. None of these have happened, said Nkonyana in her court papers.
Shikwambana said as its relationship with the NGO was being reviewed, the department realised that with time, the cost of the contract was escalating and it was becoming financially unsustainable.
“The total costs the department incurs for the centre has now escalated to almost R24m a year which covers antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and administration. This does not make financial sense considering that it costs us about R4m and R7m a year to run a fully comprehensive healthcare centre/clinic, which provides for all sorts of care.”
When the department entered into an agreement with Ndlovu Care Group, it was at a time when government was starting to roll out ARVs, he said. “Then government had capacity constraints, so the NGO was contracted to close the capacity gap. Now the department has built enough capacity to roll out ARVs and now the department has about 340,000 people receiving ARV’s in public health facilities without challenges. We believe the patients from Ndlovu will be well taken care of.”News24 report