Umm Muhammed Umar
The dust has not as yet settled following the open letter regarding South Africa’s broken public healthcare system, written by Rahima Moosa Hospital paediatrician, Dr Tim De Maayer. Now, another doctor, Dr Ayesha Soni has also written an open letter, on the subject. Dr Soni was one of the Mail and Guardians top 200 young South Africans in 2017, as well as one of News24’s 100 Young Mandela’s in 2018. She is also a human rights activist. Radio Islam spoke to Dr Ayesha Soni.
Dr Soni said that it was very challenging to work in the public healthcare sector, and was not what med school graduates expect. She said, “so you’re going to medical school with ideals and lots of dreams of what you expect, and then coming into the public healthcare sector you’re actually faced with many challenges as soon as you start your internship.” She said that that was deteriorating even further, over the years, and was very detrimental to patients.
Dr Soni has done her internship at several hospitals in South Africa, and has witnessed the degeneration of hospitals in the country. She said, “the problem has metastasized throughout the healthcare system in South Africa. Everywhere you go, you will see patients being treated sub optimally, and doctors who are just emotionally and physically exhausted.” She added that doctors were working under conditions that were not humane, and that the outcome was that patients were impacted, across the country. Worryingly, she emphasized, “And I don’t think Rahima Moosa Hospital is one of the hospitals that has been affected the most, especially after the fire at Charlotte Maxeke (Hospital); it’s really something that, if you speak to any doctor who works in the public healthcare sector in any hospital, will tell you that they experienced the same.”
Dr De Maayer had been suspended for having spoken out, in his letter, against the deplorable conditions patients and doctors alike faced in public hospitals on a daily basis. The suspension was, however, lifted shortly after. The harsh treatment he experienced at the hands of authorities, for speaking the truth, was, according to Dr Soni, an indication of a recurring pattern of what doctor’s experience. She said, “we have never really actually received support from anyone in management, anyone in the government, or anyone in power, when it comes to the struggles that we actually face every single day.” She said that there was a huge outcry amongst doctors unanimously across the country following Dr De Maayer’s suspension.
Dr Soni said, “I think conditions have reached a boiling point and doctors actually just want to speak out now, because it’s not just about our working conditions, but actually about how patients are being treated, and unnecessarily dying because of these struggles not being addressed.” Dr Soni said that doctors work in ‘survival mode’, because of the conditions that they worked under. She added that they were expected to just carry on because of staff shortages, and due to the fact that there were so many patients and such limited resources. She explained, “And you never really actually deal with what you’re seeing, especially in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. So, I think the mental burden and mental illness amongst doctors, in South Africa particularly, has really increased dramatically over the past couple of years.”
In her letter, Dr Soni asked when would the lives unnecessarily lost, would be enough. She said, however, that she did not think that there was an answer to the question. She said that Dr De Maayer was extremely brave to have come forward, voicing what most doctors have been feeling for years, but have been afraid to say. She added that what Dr De Maayer did had given a lot of people the courage to come forward and speak out as well. She added, “I just hope that it won’t be lip service from the government going forward…..and they realize that their actions have repercussions for the poorest of the country and the people that actually need it the most.” She stressed, “hopefully their consciences kick in and we see some change.”