South Africa’s Medical Association Throws Ramathuba Under The Bus

THE South African Medical Association (SAMA) has castigated Limpopo’s MEC for Health, Dr Phopi Ramathuba for behaving in an irresponsible and unethical manner following a leaked video in which she was telling a bed ridden Zimbabwean immigrant that she was part of the burden saddling South Africa’s health care system.

By Staff Reporter

In a statement, SAMA CEO Dr Vusumuzi Nhlapho said while they acknowledge that the healthcare system is currently struggling due to growing demand for services from both indigenous South Africans and immigrants, it was not in Dr Ramathuba’s capacity to address such issues and there were other sectors of government that are mandated to address the issue of foreign nationals.

Despite there being a need for a national dialogue to address the matters highlighted, SAMA deplores the manner of addressing this issue by the MEC Ramathuba to a patient at a Bela Bela hospital. The MEC as a leader in the province is aware of the appropriate channels where such matters ought to be raised. Additionally, the MEC has a duty and responsibility to comply with the ethical conduct befitting a healthcare professional who took an oath which clearly states “first do no harm.

“The Health Professions Council of South Africa’s (HPCSA) ethical guidelines and the SAMA Pledge solemnise all doctors to a duty of care, respecting the dignity of the patient and fostering the noble traditions of the medical profession without prejudice which in this instance appear to have been contravened,” said Dr Nhlapho

He added that healthcare was a fundamental human right and foreign nationals such as refugees and migrants are one of the most vulnerable members of society.

“When people are marginalised or face stigma or discrimination, their physical and mental health suffers. Discrimination of any kind in the healthcare sector is unacceptable and is a major barrier to global socio-economic development. It is contrary to the central principle of the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which is to ensure that no one is left behind.

“In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls on all countries to respect and protect human rights in health – in their laws, their health policies and programmes. WHO maintains that all countries must work together to combat inequalities and discriminatory practices so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of good health, no matter their age, sex, race, religion, health status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or migration status.”

WHO also states that every human being has the right to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, (it) is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief and economic or social condition”. This is contained in the organisation’s draft publication titled Promoting the health of refugees and migrants 2019–23.

In 2020 WHO also established the Health and Migration Programme (PHM) to provide global leadership in health and migration issues emphasising the importance of this matter.

“Section 27 of the South African Constitution states that no one may be refused emergency medical treatment. The Refugees Act of South Africa sets out rights for asylum-seekers and refugees in South Africa. It states that, refugees in South Africa have the same rights to access healthcare as South African citizens. This right is widely interpreted to include asylum-seekers, as well,” added Dr Nhlapo.

South Africa’s health care system is currently faced with a number of critical challenges which range from shortages of medical professionals in hospitals, placement of junior doctors, safety of clinicians, ageing infrastructure and access to high quality care.

However, the South Africa Department of Health said while Dr Ramathuba might have been out of line and full enquiry into the issue is currently under way, it was imperative to note that not all health services were free and only primary healthcare services are provided free of charge and higher levels of care are subject to a fee.

“Although, the department doesn’t have full context of the video conversation between the MEC and the patient, which make it difficult to make conclusion. We acknowledge that the public healthcare system is struggling in some areas to meet the healthcare needs of the citizens and reduce the backlogs due to unpredictably high number of undocumented migrants from neighbouring countries seeking healthcare service in the country, other than the asylum-seekers and refugees.

“This issue is one of the subjects that are discussed during bilateral and multilateral meetings at SADC level in order to find a long lasting solution. Limpopo Province is one of the affected provinces, and despite these challenges, the healthcare workers must ensure that they maintain high moral obligation and standards in their work in line with the Hippocratic Oath, together with the National Health Act and the Refugee Act of South Africa,” said  Mr Foster Mohale Departmental  Spokesperson, National Health Department.


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