Child deaths in SA hospitals under spotlight

Sixty-three percent of child deaths in South African hospitals could be avoided, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) heard on Thursday.

“Thirty-one percent of those children died during their first 24 hours in hospital,” Dr Mphele Mulaudzi told a commission hearing in Johannesburg.

Mulaudzi is a member of Child PIP (problem identification programme), a group of concerned medical professionals working in public hospitals.

In its research, PIP also found that children died because of lack of proper equipment in hospitals, neglect or misdiagnosis by healthcare practitioners.

She made an example of a 12-month old child who died because of a lack of appropriate equipment in hospital.

“Healthcare practitioners tried to resuscitate the child but she died because there was no age-appropriate equipment.”

Mulaudzi gave another example of a 16-month old child who died of meningitis because diagnosis was delayed by 15 hours and the child was never given antibiotics.

Mulaudzi’s presentation came a day after the SAHRC made submissions that shortages of staff members in hospitals and inappropriate facilities were hampering the provision of healthcare in state hospitals.

Another problem that was said to be compounding the conditions of healthcare services were shortages of support workers such as cleaners and porters.

This submission was made by Karl von Holdt of the National Labour and Development Institute (Naledi) on Wednesday.

He said these shortages caused nurses to do jobs out of their jurisdictions, including pushing patients to other departments, cleaning floors, taking a trolley to fetch food and dishing up for patients instead of focusing their attention on patients.

Mulaudzi did, however, state that other children died due to lack of transport to healthcare facilities, or neglect by their own caretakers or parents.

These children’s deaths could also be avoided with proper emergency transportation systems, and proper care in their homes, she said.

Appropriate nutrition and frequent clinic attendance were some of the recommendations that Child PIP made in relation to deaths occurring in homes or soon after the child had been admitted to hospital.

Sanitation, water and electricity were also problems faced by healthcare professionals, who end up leaving the public sector for better conditions in the private sector.

But the Health Department’s Dr Kamy Chetty said money had been set aside to provide all public clinics with sanitation by the end of this year.

“We recognise that a number of clinics need to be improved and we have therefore made money available to address sanitation backlog in our clinic.”

She said priority would be given to clinics still using the bucket system.

A total of R950-million has been set aside to deal with water, sanitation and electricity problems over a three-year period.

She said R150-million from this amount will be used for sanitation in 1 043 clinics this year.—Sapa

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