Thursday, 11 August, 2022
HomeMedico-LegalNGO takes Health MEC to court for immigrants to access healthcare

NGO takes Health MEC to court for immigrants to access healthcare

After a two-year-old Zimbabwean boy died when a state hospital denied him treatment because his mother had no birth certificate, SECTION27, a public interest law organisation, launched an application in the Gauteng High Court to scrap discriminatory practices denying immigrant women and their children free state healthcare.

An affidavit describes specific cases where children have been denied treatment.

The organisation says there is no coherent approach between facilities and even within hospitals, treatment depends on having luck with the official on duty.

In December 2019, two-year-old Sibusiso Ncube died of poisoning after he was refused treatment at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital because his Zimbabwean mother could not instantly produce his birth certificate or pay R5,000, says an affidavit in the court case.
This was not an isolated incident, says Umunyana Rugege, executive director of SECTION27.

“Since 2013, SECTION27 has been repeatedly approached by pregnant migrant women and children under six, who have been denied access to free health services. This is perpetuated through discriminatory subordinate laws and practices,” she says in her affidavit.

“They have routinely been denied access to the healthcare services, or they are pressured into signing acknowledgements of debt and undertakings to pay for services.”

Tania Broughton reports in GroundUp that SECTION27 wants all the relevant ordinances and regulations scrapped. It also wants the Health Minister to issue a circular to all provincial health departments recording that all pregnant or lactating women, and children under six, who do not belong to medical aid schemes and who have not come to South Africa to obtain health care, be entitled to free health services at any public health establishment, irrespective of nationality and documentation status.

Rugege says while the National Health Act does not place any limitation on the right to free health services, various subordinate laws and practices implemented at hospitals impose conditions requiring proof of nationality and financial means.

“These are unlawful,” she says, citing another example such as a pregnant asylum seeker being denied treatment after she was injured in a robbery. She was told she had to pay R2,000 before a “file could be opened” at Steve Biko Academic Hospital.

Two months later, when she was eight months pregnant and went to Charlotte Maxeke, she was told to pay R20,000 if she wanted treatment and to give birth at the hospital. Only after SECTION27 intervened was she given an appointment, but the night before it, she lost her baby.

Another Zimbabwean woman whose child needed emergency surgery was forced to sign an admission of debt for more than R34,000 at the same hospital. Then when he needed further surgery, it was denied because of the outstanding debt. The woman was further told to pay R5,000 for admission and R50,000 for the second surgery.

Again SECTION27 intervened. But in March, when the mother took him back for a check-up, a nurse addressed everyone in the queue and told them that foreign nationals would not be attended to if they did not have money to pay. The mother, and others, left without being seen.

The application is supported by the Jesuit Refugee Service, The Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, and Doctors Without Borders; all are expected to file affidavits soon. Rugege says these will highlight discriminatory institutional policies and systematic xenophobic practices and attitudes that have “detrimental and sometimes fatal consequences”.

The respondents – the MEC and Gauteng Health Department head, the minister and Director-General of Health – have 15 days to file notices of opposition.


GroundUp article – Court action to stop immigrants being denied life-saving healthcare (Creative Commons Licence)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Motsoaledi lashed for saying illegals are burdening health system


The complex story of ‘medical xenophobia’ in SA


8 Gauteng Health CEOs disciplined for oversight failures


Medical xenophobia and discrimination widespread in Gauteng health care




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