Lives will be lost in Manguzi following the health department’€™s suspension of the  hospital’€™s chief medical officer for a month without pay for throwing a picture of Health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni into a dustbin.


This is according to the SA HIV Clinicians’€™ Society, the Rural Doctors Association of SA (Rudasa) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) which have demanded that the MEC immediately reinstates Dr Mark Blaylock.


‘€œWe do not understand how a minor incident over a photograph of a politician could ever justify this,’€ added the SAHCS and Rudasa, which represent some 13 000 health workers, in a protest letter to the MEC.


The TAC this week urged its supporters to protest against Blaylock’€™s suspension by sending letters to Nkonyeni and ANC President Jacob Zuma.


‘€œMortality among young adults and infants has massively increased in the last decade. It is a province desperately short of health-care resources,

particularly doctors willing to work in rural areas,’€ said the TAC. ‘€œOne less doctor for one month almost certainly means lives lost in Manguzi.’€


Blaylock is the only doctor at Manguzi Hospital able to do an emergency hysterectomy and the most skilled doctor in surgery and anaesthetics, according to hospital sources.


He was informed this week of his suspension to ‘€œteach him a lesson’€. The department had also pursued criminal charges against Blaylock for malicious damage to state property but these were thrown out by the local prosecutor as the picture was not actually damaged.


Health spokesperson Chris Maxon said his department his department did not believe patients would suffer most and that Blaylock ‘€œhas been advised of his right to appeal’€ against his suspension.


Commenting on the call for Blaylock to be reinstated, Maxon said ‘€œwe will protect [institutional managers] from any intimidation or undue pressure that seeks to make them deviate in their quest to uphold and expect proper conduct from all public servants, with favour or fear’€.


Maxon added: ‘€œThe Department is fully behind the MEC as we understand that the road to freedom is via the cross.’€


A few months back, another senior Manguzi doctor, Colin Pfaff was charged with misconduct for raising donor money to buy the antiretroviral drug AZT to supplement the treatment of pregnant women with HIV.


Blaylock, who has diplomas in child health, anaesthetics and tropical medicine, has worked for the past six years at Manguzi, on the Mozambique border near Kosi Bay.


‘€œI have given my heart and soul to this hospital, working far beyond my designated duties,’€ Blaylock said in a statement to his disciplinary hearing.

He apologised for throwing the picture in the bin, saying he had been provoked by statements made by the MEC during a visit to the hospital.


She apparently said that rural doctors were interested in ‘€œprofits not caring about people’€ and that the antiretroviral drugs, AZT, was toxic.


‘€œWhile I realise that it was an inappropriate action for which I apologise, I believe the MEC’€™s statements were extremely unfair and slanderous and that was the direct cause of my irrational impulse,’€ said Blaylock.


Despite the fact that Nkonyeni’€™s remarks were made in front of a number of people, the health department’€™s Maxon this week denied that she had made them.


He also denied that she had been asked by the Rudasa to explain her remarks.


‘€œ[The MEC] cannot be asked to take a stand on statements she never made,’€ said Maxon. ‘€œThe office of the MEC cannot recall any request to meet the MEC on this matter by Rudasa, had this been done at any stage, the MEC would have made all means to meet them.’€


But Rudasa, which has a mandate from the SA Medical Association to represent rural doctors, maintains that it has written more than once to the MEC to ask her ‘€œto explain or distance [herself] from these comments’€.

Blaylock is now considering a post in Canada, according to sources close to him.


South Africa has a serious shortage of doctors and professional nurses, and by 2000 one in five doctors trained in the country were already working abroad, according to a study by the Centre for Global Development.


Rudasa chairperson Dr Bernard Gaede admitted that Nyonyeni’€™s slur on rural doctors had ‘€œdemoralized our members and made it harder to recruit rural doctors to KwaZulu-Natal’€.


Meanwhile, Manguzi staff, who did not want to be named, said that they felt the health department had a ‘€œvendetta’€ against their hospital.


When Blaylock’€™s colleague, Pfaff, was charged for raising funds to implement ‘€œdual therapy’€ ‘€“ an improved regimen to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission ‘€“ there was an unprecedented outcry.


The department then withdrew charges against Pfaff, but a few weeks ago the MEC accused Pfaff and colleagues of being ‘€œopportunists’€ who had engaged in ‘€œwanton behaviour’€ and ‘€œanarchy’€.

But the  SAHCS and Rudasa said that the MEC’€™s ‘€œquestioning of the integrity of the medical staff at Manguzi in [her] speech, and ongoing victimization of doctors there, is unacceptable’€.


They have asked her to publicly explain her apparent slandering of rural doctors and to assure Manguzi staff of her ‘€œactive, constructive and ongoing support.


They have also requested a meeting with the MEC to ‘€œclarify how we can work constructively together’€.


Meanwhile the Scorpions are investigating Nyonyeni in connection with the irregular purchase of a mammogram machine from a company headed by her lover. Former head of department Dr Busi Nyembezi recently resigned after being implicated in tender irregularities.