AIDS lobby to lay charges against Free State MEC for Health

AIDS lobby to lay charges against Free State MEC for HealthThe World Health Organisation is expected to recommend immediate HIV treatment in its next ARV guidelines update in December

AIDS lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is expected to lay formal charges against Free State Health MEC, Benjamin ‘Benny’ Malakoane today following allegations of corruption.

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Community health workers, activists waiting to be processed following their July arrests
Community health workers, activists waiting to be processed following their July arrests

The charges are based on a recent Mail & Guardian expose that alleged Malakoane abused his position of power in securing an Intensive Care Unit bed at Bethlehem’s

Dihlabeng District Hospital for what is believed to be a politically connected acquaintance, referred to as Patient X. This despite allegations that the ICU was already operating at full capacity and that Patient X did not meet the medical criteria for admittance to an ICU ward.

In media interviews following the Mail & Guardian story, Malakoane has denied any wrong doing.

Free State health department spokesperson Mondli Mvambi did not reply to email and telephonic Health-e News requests for comment.

Executive Director of public interest law group Section27 Mark Heywood said that the allegations mounted against Malakoane “fit the legal definition of corruption”.

“Mismanaging a health system in a way that causes pain and preventable death should be visited with some legal penalty,” added Heywood.

In a written statement expected to formally be handed over to South African Police Service (SAPS) today, TAC highlights “possible criminal activity” by Malakoane and other Free State Department of Health senior officials.

In the statement, TAC requests SAPS to launch an urgent investigation, saying that Malakoane and other officials may be found guilty of the offense of “corrupt activities” in terms of Section 4 of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act. The Act outlines “offences in respect of corrupt activities relating to public officers’ stating that giving ‘gratification’ or receiving ‘gratification” can amount to “the abuse of a position of authority”.

“I believe that the officials may have agreed to accept ‘gratification’ for the benefit of Patient X in the form of a bed in the ICU and the financial and other resources that accompany that bed,” TAC General Secretary Anele Yawa is quoted as saying in the statement that alleges Malakoane and his colleagues used their positions to enrich themselves.

The TAC statement to SAPS also questions whether Malakoane’s alleged actions at Dihlabeng District Hospital violated accepted medical practice and patients’ Constitutional right to health after patients were allegedly turned away to accommodate Patient X.

“There is absolutely no business for a politician to intervene in those processes in order to secure a bed for somebody who is a friend or a relative or political acquaintance,” said Heywood, adding that independent of the corruption charges, TAC continues to call for Malakoane’s immediate dismissal.

“We don’t think he’s the fit and proper person to be the health MEC,” Heywood told Health-e News. “He’s presided over a period of further collapse in health systems.”

In June, Health-e News reported that a financial crisis in the province had led to shortages of more than 200 medicines at the Bloemfontein medicines depot. Alongside stock outs of HIV medication and testing kits as well as diabetes treatment, the province was also reportedly rationing some services.

About 127 Free State community health workers and activists were arrested following what they maintain were peaceful protests outside the Free State Department of Health’s offices. Protesting poor health care delivery as well as the sudden dismissal of community health care workers, those arrested are expected to appear in court today in Bloemfontein on charges related to the protests.

An edited version of this story first appeared in the 1 September edition of The Star newspaper