Opinion: President Ramaphosa, we still don’t have ambulances in Xhora Mouth

Opinion: President Ramaphosa, we still don’t have ambulances in Xhora MouthIn October last year, Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth announced a three-phase plan to address key challenges with the province’s emergency medical services. PHOTO: Black Star/Spotlight
Comment & Analysis

It has been eight years since the people of the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area in the Eastern Cape laid a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) about the lack of emergency medical services (EMS) in our villages. The Xhora Mouth Administrative Area is about 100km from Mthatha and consists of four villages: Folokwe, Mgojweni, Tshezi and Nqileni.

It took two years  for the SAHRC to call  us to a hearing on 24 and 25 March 2015 to testify about the suffering we were experiencing because the Eastern Cape Department of Health was failing to provide a clinic and ambulances to our area.

Sehla Mkopheni who was wheelchair-bound was one of the people who spoke at the hearings. His family of eight survived on his meagre disability grant which his wife collected on his behalf. When he attended his monthly check-up at Zithulele Hospital, he was forced to hire a private vehicle because no ambulance has ever made it to his home and there is no planned patient transport vehicle available. He passed away since the hearings took place.

Thabisile Gwebindlala who also testified at the hearings died before he could see the changes that he fought so hard for become a reality.

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People who should not be dying are dying because emergency medical services do not exist in Xhora Mouth. We have lost enough people we love. People who could have contributed bringing change to the community.

Between December 2020 and February 2021 alone we have lost three young men who died needlessly.

A young man from Folokwe Village was stabbed. He passed away. The people who were there hired a private bakkie but he never made it to the hospital. Another young man from Tshezi Village was also stabbed. His family also hired a bakkie but he also died on the way to the hospital.

Tshoya Botoli survived the private transport trip to the Zithulele Hospital after he was stabbed. He was stabilised and then transferred to Mthatha Academic Hospital where he succumbed to his wounds.

This is an indication of how paralysed the EMS system is. There is no hope for our people. The only thing that can restore our hope is a plan. But there is no sign of a plan from the Eastern Cape health department.

What we have been given are empty promises year after year.

After the SAHRC report was published in 2016, the Eastern Cape health department promised to give us an ambulance. We were encouraged by this promise and indeed an ambulance arrived in October 2016 to be stationed at Nqileni Village. But soon the ambulance disappeared. It was a Quantum which was not capable of navigating the gravel roads between our villages and Mthatha, so it was constantly in the depot for repairs.

Once again, the people of Xhora Mouth had no access to emergency medical care and the situation returned to a state where people were forced to use what little money they had to hire private vehicles to take loved ones in distress to hospital in emergencies.

In 2017, we went to Bisho to confront the health MEC about the failure to provide 4×4 ambulances that could handle the terrain. Again our pleas fell on deaf ears but we persisted in our cause. We wrote letters and spoke out at every opportunity and in 2019, we were told that a budget had been allocated and that a satellite ambulance centre would be set up. The District Manager for Amathole District, Sindiswa Gede visited our villages and brought along with her three 4X4 vehicles from the OR Tambo District. Pictures were taken but that was the last day we saw those vehicles.

What further complicates the issue is that the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area borders the Amathole and OR Tambo districts. The community is closer to OR Tambo geographically, but the responsibility to provide services lies with Amathole.

When people call the ambulance call centre in Amathole district they are often told that the ambulance is on its way but it never arrives or they are told to hire a private vehicle. The people of Xhora can testify that ambulances are only available around 10% of the times when they are needed. The one in ten reliability is due to the odd instances where one is able to get a hold of the supervisor of the EMS from the OR Tambo district, who is sometimes able to make a plan. If the supervisor is not there no ambulance will arrive.

This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

We have been waiting for more than eight years for emergency services in the whole of the Eastern Cape to improve. A nine-year-old boy from Tshezi village has never seen an ambulance in his life.

We have pleaded, we have marched and we have written letters, to no avail. We have been waiting for a clear plan for how the Eastern Cape Department of Health will make sure that ambulance services serve the people of the province but none has emerged. We are told that it exists but we have not seen it. We are tired of speaking to people who do not hear us.

Now we appeal to President Ramaphosa to hear us.

*Msaro is the co-ordinator of the ambulance and clinic committee in the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area.