TAC: “Poor maternal and obstetric care in the Western Cape”
NSP Review COMMENT:
The Treatment Action Campaign’s Western Cape office has been highlighting what appears to be serious problems in maternity and obstetrics units (MOUs) in the provincial healthcare system. After a number of shocking cases were reported to the TAC Western Cape, a public meeting was called in Khayelitsha where many women shared their stories. Given the seriousness and volume of cases reported, the TAC has been compelled to intervene.
“Many of our members are mothers who make use of the public healthcare system, and as such we have a particular interest in the health of mothers and their babies,” said TAC Western Cape Women’s Representative, and mother of one, Norute Nobola. “While it is hard to know the full extent of the problem, we believe that the number of cases and the nature of the cases warrants a serious and urgent investigation by the provincial department of health. For this reason our memorandum included a demand for an investigation as well as a number of interim measures that must be taken until an investigation can be completed,” says Mandla Majola, TAC Western Cape coordinator. The Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo has responded to the TAC in a memorandum undertaking to investigate each case contained in affidavits. NSP Review will report back in detail in our December issue.
“Why are our babies dying and being born with disabilities?” 1 000 mothers, pregnant women and activists demanded as they marched to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament towards the end of August. Handing over a memorandum, they called for urgent action and an in-depth investigation to address ongoing problems in accessing quality maternal and obstetric care in the province.
Over several months, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) made a series of shocking discoveries in Maternity and Obstetrics Units (MOUs) in the Western Cape. In response, a public meeting was held in Khayelitsha in late July, where numerous women shared their stories. It took three days for one mother to be made aware of the fact that her newborn baby had died. Another woman was forced to mop up her own mess when her water broke while under the care of MOU staff and nurses. They claimed that there were cases of women who were “left in labour for too long, resulting in avoidable deaths or disabilities of the newborns”. Some women said they had stillbirths, while others claimed their babies experienced foetal distress, and many of them spoke of mistreatment and little to no counselling, despite their traumatic deliveries.
For Ntomboxolo, pain, suffering and being told to clean the bed herself were just the beginnings of her traumatic experience when she gave birth to her third child.
Her son was suspected of having epilepsy at birth, but was assured by doctors at Tyberberg Hospital that there was “nothing wrong with him”. Six weeks later, she was told that at birth he had fluids in his brain, which has made him slower in learning the basics of crawling, walking, eating and speaking.
Other, no less horrific, complaints included women being turned away and denied medical attention without any explanation, gross understaffing of nurses (at most MOU sites, there are only two nurses for an entire ward of patients), women being physically abused during delivery and unhygienic facilities, such as blood-covered toilet seats.
As well as a list of specific demands, the TAC has demanded that the provincial Department of Health launch an urgent investigation. While it is difficult to know the full extent of the problem, with endless stories continuously being brought to attention, these issues demand immediate attention.
Further demands include providing more nurses, proper counselling and medical attention for every woman who needs it, clean facilities, correct training at the MOU sites, and that pregnant women and their spouses be treated with dignity and respect.
With pressure from the TAC, the findings of the investigation have been promised by the Department of Health at the end of September.