This is not the first time, Coovadia, a senior paediatric specialist at Rahima Moosa Mother and Hospital in Johannesburg and adjunct professor at Wits, is speaking out. He was one of a small group of doctors who strongly resisted the earlier government denialist stance on HIV and more specifically their refusal to make treatment available. Last year Coovadia lamented the poor state of the Gauteng health department and today he says that despite the so-called turnaround strategy they continue to face conditions of poor and non-functioning equipment and the continued stock out of medicines and other essentials.
He has also seen the SECTION27 report. ‘I agree with the report, it is accurate as one gets and the stories are a reflection of what we deal with every day. It is not an exaggeration,’ says Coovadia.
‘We don’t want to knock our government, we want to be part of the solution, but we can’t stand by and allow this to happen.’
Coovadia adds that he feels even more compelled to speak out as his patients are children. ‘Children are vulnerable and even more fragile. They are not as resilient as adult patients. Last year we ran out of the first line drug for bacterial meningitis ‘ it was untenable, unthinkable. I asked how could this be? For children the implications are grave. They may either die or suffer long-term mental and physical handicaps as a result of inadequate treatment. It is extremely frightening to not have adequate drugs for meningitis.’
Coovadia says that there was also increasing concern among doctors they that by compromising patient care they were at the front line facing major risk of litigation.
‘For us it is not simply a case of resources, it is also a case of resources not being utilised efficiently.’
A state doctor for more than 20 years, Coovadia recalls the period around 1994 ‘when we were inspired and hopeful. We believed we were going to offer better health for all. But we are now far from where we should be and were hoping to be.
‘It is a dream gone wrong.’