Working for access to quality public healthcare in South Africa since 1998
21 January 2018

No health without mental health: Let Us March!

Johannesburg, 21 January 2018 – Former Gauteng MEC for Health, Qedani Mahlangu, will begin testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings tomorrow, 22 January 2018. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) supports the continuation of the arbitration hearings and the quest for truth, justice and accountability.

As part of our campaign to strengthen the South African health care system, we wish to draw attention publically to the behaviour of government officials, so that no such tragedies will happen ever again. We plan to march tomorrow from Pieter Roos Park in Parktown to the arbitration hearings at the Emoyeni Conference Centre, arriving during a break in the hearings scheduled for 11:30-12:00. Our intention is not to disrupt the proceedings but to stand in solidarity with victims and their families.

We expect 1,000 comrades from TAC, health and human rights organisations, citizens’ groups as well as organised labour to attend the march. We will hand over a joint submission to the Premier of Gauteng David Makhura, who was notified on Friday, about the current crisis in our health care system.

Our concern with the Life Esidimeni debacle dates back to August 2016 when TAC Gauteng, together with other civil society organisations working on the human right to health, began mobilising and lobbying the Gauteng Department of Health for answers in the wake of disconcerting news reports about the facility closure. TAC picketed with family members of the victims outside of the provincial Department of Health. Since then, we have continued to follow the process as well as attend the hearings since they began last year.

Analysing the reality of the multiple crises in our health care system, we are troubled that mental health remains at the bottom of health priorities. How is it possible that we only have 302 psychiatrists for the 44 million people who exclusively use the public health sector, when one third of all South Africans suffer from mental illness?  Worse still is the geographic distribution of these specialists, with less than 5% of psychiatrists working in rural areas where more than 40% of South Africa’s population resides.

Mental illness is often diagnosed concurrently as part of many other medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS. While screening for psychological and emotional wellness is included in the HIV treatment guidelines, it often does not happen resulting in under recognition and under treatment, with disastrous consequences. A 2017 South African study by De Kock and Pillay found that the prevalence of mental illness, especially depression and anxiety, among people living with HIV is 43.7%.

TAC is alarmed that Life Esidimeni is probably the tip of the iceberg of poor care for the most vulnerable of society’s members who are completely dependent on a quality, caring, functional and safe health system. We must therefore address not only the failure of governance of the previous Gauteng Health administration, but get to work tackling the deeper and more entrenched evils of corruption, poor management, lack of accountability and the still prevailing ignorance around mental health and wellness. We must combat and end the stigma that comes with disrespect of those in our society who remain invisible.

Join the People’s March to Emoyeni Conference Centre in support of the Life Esidimeni families and to demand justice and accountability in our health care system!

For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact:

Anele Yawa (General Secretary): 079 328 1215 or via email: anele.yawa@mail.tac.org.za.

Samara Ragaven (Senior Researcher): 071 645 7579 or via email: samara.ragaven@mail.tac.org.za