SAHRC investigates medical surgery over ethics breaches

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A medical surgery in Mokopane, Limpopo, has come under fire from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for alleged racism, breaching a number of medical ethics codes. SAHRC provincial manager Victor Mavhidula is quoted in News24 as saying that the commission had visited the surgery and found that patients were segregated upon entry, and treated differently based on race.

Mavhidula said he walked into the surgery, closely followed by a white female colleague, and they were attended to by different people. He said when he arrived, he was attended to by a receptionist on the left – a black woman, while his white colleague who walked in seconds later was attended to by a white woman on the right. “When I asked about this, I was told that it was because the woman had an appointment with the doctor,” he said, adding that the staff was unaware that they had come together to test the veracity of the allegations. Neither had made appointments.

Mavhidula said that the separation based on race was not exclusive to the reception area. He said there were separate waiting rooms, consultation rooms and toilets for different races. “The toilet marked public is the one used by blacks, while the one marked staff is used by whites. Even the kitchen cupboards and utensils are separated,” he said.

According to the report, Mavhidula asked to speak to the owner and then revealed his identity to him. The man explained that the surgery was opened in 1984, and that it had been operating that way since then. Those dispensing medication to patients were found to be unqualified, and some of the medication had expired. “It is possible that some of the expired medication was given to black patients, but for now, we cannot confirm that. What we were told by the staff once they were more free, however, was that black patients were charged more than white patients when paying,” he said.

He said that the commission had launched an investigation after receiving an anonymous complaint from a member of the public in November last year.

Mavhidula said in the report that residents who were present at the time of the visit told him that the segregation along racial lines had been happening for years, but that they had continued going to the surgery as they had no choice, despite there being a surgery less than 100m away.

He said all the information they had gathered was also sent to the HPCSA. The commission’s next step was to figure out what should happen to the surgery’s owner and doctor, he said, adding that finding the correct sanction was tough as people did not learn.

The doctor, an elderly white man, apparently told Mavhidula that he was sorry, and that he was willing to co-operate with the commission. According to the report, Mavhidula said Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba, was intervening in the matter.

News24 report

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