Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), along with Section27, the Treatment Action Campaign and Rural Health Advocacy Project recently released a damning report about HIV drug stock-outs in the Eastern Cape. According to the report, “Forty percent of 70 Eastern Cape health facilities ran out of HIV or TB drugs in May, and in almost a quarter of cases medical staff were forced to send patients home without treatment”, painting a grim picture of healthcare in the province e. According to the coalition, the crisis is a result of a management and drug supply crisis at the Mthatha depot, which supplies the local health facilities.
But there is reason to believe that problems at the Eastern Cape medical depot are more widespread than is realised and that they extend beyond HIV drugs. In a recent visit to the North West provincial medical depot in Mahikeng, serious challenges were found by the health committee. According to a press statement released by the North West provincial legislature, the visit was undertaken following the discovery “that there was a shortage of medicines in hospitals and clinics especially for the hypertension and diabetes around the province”. Furthermore it was found that the depot is not permanently registered with the Medicines Control Council, which is a statutory body that was established in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act, to oversee the regulation of medicines in South Africa. This means that lives are further put at risk, as regulatory mechanisms are clearly not working effectively.
According to studies conducted by the Medical Research Council (MRC), one out of every four people between the ages of 15 and 64 suffers from high blood pressure and it is also estimated that “53 men and 78 women die in South Africa each day from the impact of hypertension”. Added to this is the warning earlier this year from Dr Larry Distiller (founder and managing director of the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology) that “three-and-a-half million South Africans (about 7% of the population) suffer from diabetes and there are many more who are undiagnosed”. Both the MRC studies and Distiller’s warning suggest that the situation at the North West depot needs to be dealt with urgently, particularly with such a large number of people dependent on the public health system.
While there is no doubt that the South African government has taken reasonable steps to ensure that citizens’ rights — including the right to healthcare — are protected by law, it is clear that there is still a long way to go in ensuring that the state does indeed fulfil those rights in the manner it ought to.
Until this happens, lives will needlessly be put at risk, with devastating consequences for families and ultimately society at large …