Counsellors strike, patients suffer Living with AIDS # 521
Some 7 500 HIV counsellors and community health care workers in Gauteng have downed tools after not being paid for months.
At Dr Yusuf Dadoo Hospital, in Krugersdorp in the West Rand of Gauteng, about 20 AIDS counselors have not received their stipend of R1 500 for the past four months. The majority have withdrawn their services to protest the non-payment. The strike has compromised the quality of care that patients receive. For instance, according to a nursing sister at the Dr Yusuf Dadoo Hospital’s antenatal care clinic, many pregnant women are not offered HIV counselling and testing.
‘Some of the patients are not counselled at all because we are only two mid-wives here. So, I can’t palpate, I can’t counsel and I can’t pre-counsel or do testing. It’s a lot of load to me. So, most of the patients are going back without being counselled. Others are positive’¦ they are giving birth to positive babies. No counselling, no treatment is given to them’, says the nursing sister whom we will not name for fear of adverse repercussions.
The nursing sister says counsellors in the antenatal care clinic serve a very important role.
‘We want a HIV-negative community. So, if the mother is going to have an HIV-positive baby, it’s worse. So, the counsellors are there to take part ‘ whether the mother is negative or positive. If they come across a mother who is positive, they immediately send the mother to us and we immediately give treatment. I think our government should take care of these counsellors because they are the people who are taking care of the community. Without counsellors, really, we can’t work. We can’t’.
Normally, the clinic has three counsellors, but the strike has robbed it of those crucial pairs of hands.
‘I’m supposed to be having three counsellors. But, now, it’s only one. And the very same one has not been paid for four months. I ask her to come on Tuesday and Thursday. They are our busiest days’, she adds.
The nursing sister says she would give the counsellors money for transport from her own pocket, but she has since stopped because she can’t afford it. Meanwhile, counsellors and community health care workers at the hospital say regional health managers in the West Rand have threatened them with dismissal if they don’t report for duty.
‘I’m scared to stay home because I’m going to be chased away by the regional office. If you stay home they will chase you guys. Go to work for nothing. They chased one of our counsellors’¦ Her name is Sarah. She was working at Leratong. When she tried to explain, they never wanted to listen to anything that she says. The absenteeism is caused by the stipend because you can’t go to work without money’, says Vanyi Mogale, one of the counsellors.
But many say they will never go back to work if they are not paid their stipends of R1 500, which they depend on for their transport costs to get to the hospital. They say they also depend on the stipends for themselves and their families’ livelihoods.
‘Let them just think about us. We are only human beings and without money there’s nothing we can do. I, personally, Ntesang Christina Kgosi, will not go to work until I get my stipend’.
‘My name is William Mabote. I’m in debt with my accounts. Where I stay, I’m a bread-winner. I need to pay some of the bills which are there at my house. But, now, I cannot meet those requirements’.
‘My name is Lesego Mampe. My challenge is I’m a bread-winner at home. I have three daughters and I don’t have money to support those children’.
‘My name is Ntswaki Gaebeye. Where I stay, I pay rent. It’s been three months now. The Ma-Stand is promising to kick me out. It’s very, very frustrating’.
‘My name is Vanyi Mogale. I’ve worked for the R1 500. Every day when I wake up I cry because my baby cries also’¦ with an empty stomach. We go to bed with empty stomachs, we wake up with empty stomachs. Can we please have that money’?
The regional health department in the West Rand and the office of the provincial MEC for Health could not be reached for comment.