Doctors urged to remember the ‘human face’ in their medical practices

Doctors urged to remember the ‘human face’ in their medical practicesThe need for doctors to act ethically in the day to day practice of medicine was emphasised by Dr Wendy Orr at the World Congress of Family Doctors being held in Durban this week, while another speaker lambasted government for failing to address problems in rural healthcare.

The need for doctors to act ethically in the day to day practice of medicine was emphasised by Dr Wendy Orr at the World Congress of Family Doctors being held in Durban this week, while another speaker lambasted government for failing to address problems in rural healthcare.

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Dr Wendy Orr, the South African doctor who exposed police torture of political detainees in the 1980s, yesterday (WED) challenged doctors worldwide to apply ethics in their everyday practice of medicine.  

Describing herself as an “accidental activist”, Orr told the World Congress of Family Doctors she found it disturbing that not a single district attorney before or after her had ever spoken out against police brutality.

Orr said she believed so many South African doctors had colluded with apartheid as they had been trained “to accept racism as the norm”, and that discussions on ethics had been confined to textbooks.

Orr said that as a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, she had come across a report by a district surgeon who had seen Steve Biko before his death.

Biko, who later died in police custody after being tortured, had asked the district surgeon to ensure that he had water so that he could wash, access to food other than bread and asked why he was being kept naked. The doctor had done nothing about his complaint.

“We should keep this picture of Biko at the forefront of our minds,” urged Orr, to ensure that a “more human face” prevails in medicine.  

Earlier in the day at the WONCA congress, Dr Steve Reid from the University of Natal, lambasted government for failing to address the problems in rural healthcare.

He said that a meeting of rural doctors and the government in 1997 had drawn up guidelines to address problems.  

However, since 1997 “the Department of Health has adopted short-term and ineffective measures” to address these problems.  

“If anything, the quality of care in rural areas since 1997 has deteriorated despite people having more access to clinics,” said Reid.