TB patients end hunger strike

Tuberculosis (TB) patients at the Jose Pearson TB Hospital in Port Elizabeth and the Fort Grey Hospital in East London started eating again on Thursday after going on a hunger strike, the Eastern Cape health department said.

Spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said patients went on a hunger strike on Wednesday.

“The majority of the patients have started eating and it’s just a few still on hunger strike. There are also some patients who are forcing others to take part in the hunger strike,” he said.

The Fort Grey Hospital houses about 150 TB patients, while the Jose Pearson hospital has about 300.

Kupelo said the patients in Fort Grey started protesting after they did not receive their disability grants.

“They want us to discharge them for this reason. The health department is monitoring the situation at both hospitals.
We will not entertain such protests. They will not be discharged and we will engage with law-enforcement agencies to maintain order,” he said.

He added that the department was still searching for TB patients who had escaped from the Jose Pearson hospital on Wednesday after overpowering security guards.

“The general public is not at an extreme risk, but it is the relatives of the escapees [who are at risk],” said Kupelo. “So far six patients are still on the run. We are trying to contact their relatives to find out their whereabouts to track them down.”

He added: “The patients’ demands were unreasonable as they wanted to be allowed to go out and do shopping.”

He said the health department is not running a prison facility but a health facility. “What is happening is beyond the control of the doctors and nurses as there is a criminal element involved. These people are being kept at the facility as patients and not as prisoners.”

In July this year, 19 TB patients escaped from Jose Pearson hospital for the first time. Kupelo said the 19 demanded that they be let out of the hospital, then managed to overpower security guards and fled.

They escaped after a security guard, who has since been suspended, allegedly allowed one patient to go shopping.—Sapa

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