After being hit by a vehicle, 47-year-old David Mashaba lay bleeding out for more than three hours before an ambulance arrived at his village of Ha-Mashau about 40 km east of Louis Trichardt, according to the Democratic Alliance’s ward representative Jonas Mugovhani who was called to the scene by Mashaba’s family.
“By the time the ambulance arrived, he had lost too much blood and died,” Mugovhani told OurHealth. “I was born and bred here but I can assure you that I have never seen an ambulance at our local clinic.”
When villagers fall ill, their lives may depend on their ability to pool money to hire private cars to take them to the nearest health facilities in the absence of emergency medical services, Mugovhani said.
Limpopo becomes latest province to report ambulance shortage
A recent South African Human Rights Commission hearing into Eastern Cape EMS found that a shortage of vehicles and staff, as well as poor roads and budgeting mean that some in the Eastern Cape have never seen an ambulance in their lives. For others, it has meant having to watch family members die before their eyes as some residents testified that they waited up five days for an ambulance.
The South African Human Rights Commission announced that it plans to launch a national inquiry into the state of EMS earlier this month.
The ratio of ambulances to patients in Limpopo remains – like many provinces – far above the national target of one emergency vehicle per every 10,000 people. According to the Limpopo Department of Health’s latest annual report, the province had one emergency vehicle for every 47,290 residents.
Previous annual reports have attributed the province’s inability to procure more ambulances due to financial constraints.
This year, the Limpopo Department of Health promised to prioritise the purchase of new ambulances and 60 were unveiled at a ceremony at Sekororo Hospital outside Polokwane on 25 August.
Another 40 ambulances were expected to be delivered by the end of the financial year, according to a statement by Limpopo Premier Chupu Stanley Mathabatha.
As in the Eastern Cape, the vast distances between communities as well as poor rural roads put pressure on the province’s EMS fleet, said Limpopo Spokesperson Phuti Seloba during the August handover.
The Treatment Action Campaign’s (TAC) Amukelani Maluleke said the residents have become accustomed to long waits.
“It has become normal for residents to wait for more than three hours for an ambulance and in some cases the ambulance does not even arrive at all,” he said.
According to Maluleke, TAC has tried to address the issue with the Department of Health for years to no avail. Makhado Municipality spokesperson Louis Bobodi said the municipality, where Mashaba lived, is aware of the problem but added that the municipality was relying on the Department of Health to address the issue.
The Limpopo Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Ndivhuwo Musetha
An edited version of this story also appeared on Health24