For 8 years, Dr Nerissa Pather has been bedridden and in constant pain from the multi-drug resistant TB meningitis, she contracted at Kwa-Mashu clinic, near Durban.
All efforts to get compensation for her ‘Injury on Duty’ had fallen on deaf ears.
A month ago on Special Assignment, her husband, Dr Shane Maharaj, made an impassioned appeal to government.
DR SHANE MAHARAJ: The government needs to respect the fact that we are human beings we did our time no1. We are SA citizens. Born and brought up here. We did our time. And all that is expected of them is to come forward and acknowledge and be willing to stop doing bureaucratic paperwork. Why? Life is going on. We live this every day.
The government did hear his call. Two days after the Special Assignment broadcast, the MEC for Health in KZN, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, visited the family.
The risks that health workers face, fighting one of the worst TB epidemics in the world, is of deep concern.
DR SIBONGISENI DHLOMO: We do not have enough doctors to start with in the country. Not because I’m a medical doctor, but you would wish that people who are medical doctors, would live very long, until age 90. And be able to actively help us in our institutions. But her case was even more touching because this happened at her workplace.
Nerissa is only one of many of health workers whose lives have been permanently altered by the TB that they picked up from their patients.
DR SIBONGISENI DHLOMO:It takes away all the things’¦ Look, TB ok maybe a person who is poor, a person who is not well looked after, a person who is not well nourished, a person who stays in a small little shack her and there this was a medical doctor who had a reasonably good life, a reasonably good diet and a reasonably good accommodation and housing but who contracted TB and this is what TB did to her. This is the highest price any healthcare professional could pay for his country, for his patients. I mean she didn’t ask for this, she wanted dot help and in return she is a patient and she is sitting on a wheelchair.
His immediate undertaking was to address the issue of the compensation that should have been paid. He acknowledged that government was to blame.
DR SIBONGISENI DHLOMO: I’ve learnt from the family that they have done everything humanely possible to make submissions by fax, phone email post, delivery and they just seem to be some challenges with regard to this matter. There’s no principal decision that is taken by government to say you have been injured on duty or contracted an illness on duty and should not be compensated, without actually knowing the full details. I’d just like to make it clear that it was sheer administrative delays, unnecessary and very unfortunate.
It’s infection control in hospitals that needs his urgent attention. Until that’s addressed, the transmission TB, and extensively drug resistant or XDR-TB, will continue to threaten the lives of doctors and patients.
DR SIBONGISENI DHLOMO:People could have in with an injury, just a fracture and he goes home with XDR. Patient could come in with simple straightforward diarrhea, go to the hospital stay overnight and go home with XDR. So those are challenges that we are picking up on and you are right. Maybe one should actually say the infectious diseases have overwhelmed the country.
As a doctor himself, he knows that it could have been him who ended up with multi-drug resistant TB and in the wheelchair.
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For a family devastated by the disease’¦ his visit brought some comfort.
DR SHANE MAHARAJ: It means that finally the government has come to see as having suffered for a cause; that we have not sacrificed our lives for medicine and have this big degree on our wall in vain; that our government recognises us. Our government, to an extent, in South Africa does care. Yes there is a lot of bureaucratic red tape and a lot of bureaucratic shortfalls but, at the end of the day, I believe that the right channels, could be opened. Nerissa and I believe that the government can do better, not only for us, but for all healthcare professionals and South Africans in general.
This clip was aired on SABC 3 Special Assignment.