Outrage grows at KZN’s misconduct charge against doctor
SA HIV Clinicians Society and the SA Medical Council join voices in support of Dr Colin Pfaff, the rural doctor charged with misconduct for introducing ‘dual therapy’
Outrage is growing in the medical fraternity about the KwaZulu-Natal health department’s decision to pursue charges of misconduct against a Manguzi doctor for introducing ‘dual therapy’ for pregnant HIV positive mothers.
The Southern African HIV Clinicians’ Society (SAHCS) yesterday joined the Rural Doctors Association of SA in calling for charges against Dr Colin Pfaff to be dismissed.
Meanwhile, the SA Medical Association (SAMA), which represents three-quarters of the country’s public health doctors, said it was ‘perturbed by the principles involved in the case’.
Over 100 babies a month get infected with HIV by their mothers in the Mkhanyakude district where Manguzi Hospital is situated.
Pfaff raised money from donors to add another antiretroviral drug, AZT, to the hospital’s nevirapine-only programme. This dual therapy has been recommended by the World Health Organisation as being far more effective treatment regime than the single dose nevirapine in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission.
Yet 10 days ago, Pfaff was sent a letter from the Manguzi Hospital CEO asking him to respond to the charge that he ‘wilfully and unlawfully without prior permission of (his) superiors rolled out [prevention of mother-to-child HIV treatment] dual therapy to the pregnant mothers and newborns’.
The matter was taken up by the AIDS Law Project on behalf of Pfaff, but hope that the department would drop charges faded last Friday when spokesperson Leon Mbangwa described Pfaff as having ‘contravened policy’ as the department had neither the capacity nor the budget to implement dual therapy.
The Southern African HIV Clinicians’ Society (SAHCS) said yesterday (Mon) that many of its members had expressed ‘outrage’ at the disciplinary action and were ‘demoralised by unnecessary and ongoing attacks on the integrity of people who try to do their best for their patients.
Pfaff has worked in Manguzi, a hospital on the border with Mozambique, for 10 years. ‘Despite lip service to supporting these [rural] areas, reports from medical staff of continued departmental bureaucratic incompetence and obstruction continue to surface,’ said the SAHCS.
‘The institution of disciplinary action against Dr Pfaff for providing better therapy than that advised by the department is symptomatic of the lack of initiative and crude politicking that still seems to plague our country’s response to HIV.’
Meanwhile, SAMA Chairperson Dr Kgosi Letlape said: ‘We can’t comment on the specifics of the case because it is ongoing. But we find it very disturbing that a doctor who is doing his ethical duty and helping his patients to get better treatment is considered to be committing a crime by this government.
‘At the last meeting of the SA National AIDS Council [held in November] we were given an assurance that any area that was ready to go ahead with dual therapy could do so and nothing would happen to them,’ added Letlape. ‘We are now wondering whether this assurance meant anything.’
Pfaff has been advised not to comment on the case, and his lawyer is still waiting for the department to inform him of the exact charges being faced by his client.
The KwaZulu-Natal health department, said yesterday it had charged Pfaff with misconduct ‘after he allegedly acted beyond his authority in accepting a donation and implemented a Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) dual therapy to pregnant mothers and newborn babies without prior permission of his superiors’.
Condemning ‘certain opportunistic politicians’ for using ‘this matter as a political pawn to score points’, departmental spokesperson Leon Mbangwa claimed . ‘we will continue to put the interest of our people first, unlike these opportunists’. ‘ Health-e News Service.