'Doctors can't leave patients to fight their own battles'

An investigation has been ordered into an Eastern Cape doctor’s alleged refusal to treat a two-year-old rape victim on Saturday.

The Eastern Cape health department’s superintendent general has appointed a team of investigators to probe the incident and make recommendations, departmental spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said on Monday.

It is expected that the investigation will take at least two weeks, with statements to be taken from all nurses on duty at Mount Fletcher’s Tailor Dequest hospital on the day, he said.

According to the police, the two-year-old was alone at her family’s home in the village of Tinana, outside Mount Fletcher, on Saturday afternoon when a 16-year-old walked in through an unlocked door and allegedly raped her. He was caught in the act by the child’s mother and arrested.

Her family took her to the Tailor Dequest hospital—the only one in the area with a district surgeon—but were turned away and told to go instead to the Matatiele hospital 70km away.

She and her mother were eventually flown to Umtata General hospital where she was seen by a forensic pathologist. She was not admitted, but was placed on a course of anti-retroviral therapy.

Mother and child were flown by helicopter to the hospital again on Monday for psychological help, said Eastern Cape health minister Bevan Goqwana.

“[The girl] is looking quite well,” he said from the hospital.

Whatever the conditions doctors find themselves working under, they have an ethical responsibility to see somebody brought to them, said Goqwana.

“We cannot allow a situation where a doctor leaves a patient to fight his or her own battles.”

However, he pointed out that in this case, the authorities do not yet know all the facts.
It appears to have been nurses who said the hospital was not accepting rape cases at the time, he said.

Should it be found that it was indeed the doctor who refused to treat the child, he will face an inter-departmental disciplinary hearing and independent disciplinary action through the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

The teenager accused of raping the toddler appeared briefly in the Mount Fletcher Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

He was not asked to plead and the case was postponed until Friday, said Eastern Cape police spokesperson Inspector Ursula Roelofse. He will remain in custody, she said.—Sapa

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