According to the Department of Health, health facilities should have designated rooms for handing items like soiled sheets or bed pans – often called sluice rooms. National core standards for health facilities also say that equipment with a potential for carrying bacteria is not to be kept next to drinking water taps.

Mpumalanga’s Ermelo Clinic does not have a sluice room so the containers used to collect urine for pregnancy tests were being stored close to an outside tap from which patients – including children – often drink, according to one clinic nurse who did not wish to be named.

“Due to the fact that the clinic doesn’t have a sluice room, all female patients are asked to bring back the containers into the vital sign room where (the cups) are kept in a bucket,” she said. “It seems that some just … leave the containers there at a public water tap, which is unattended by health professionals.”

She added that clinic staff had been unaware about the problem until OurHealth brought it to the staff’s attention.

In a 2011 national survey of health facilities, only about 45 percent of Mpumalanga’s hospitals and clinics met national standards for cleanliness and infection control.

Meanwhile, patients said they were shocked and angered by the realisation.

“It was embarrassing to be told that what I thought was a…glass was a urinary container,” said clinic patient Thomas Langa.

William Nyambi, a teacher and patient, said it was hard to believe that no one at the facility knew about the problem and said staff had been negligent.

Another patient, Lizzy Nkuna agreed with Nyambi.

“I doubt these women are told to where to put the urinary test container because if they were told, this wouldn’t happen,” Nkuna said. “I put all the blame to the clinic staff.”

“Can you imagine using a urinal container as a drinking glass, and what about the infection you can get?” she added. “Our health is not safe in this facility…the clinic staff must do their work as they were trained.”

Following OurHealth’s visit, clinic staff promised to move the containers to a place where they could be better monitored.  When OurHealth visited the clinic to follow up, the containers had been removed from the outside tap area.