Healthcare for undocumented migrants

Kalafong Hospital
Kalafong hospital goes legal route to protect right to healthcare (Pic:Lilita Gwabe)

As xenophobic sentiment appears to mount in SA, Kalafong Hospital management has taken legal steps to stop Operation Dudula members from preventing undocumented migrants from accessing healthcare. Hospital management told Health-e News on Friday they have an interdict to stop the gathering.

The organisation has been picketing outside the hospital since August 1. Concerns about the politicisation of healthcare have increased recently. This week  Limpopo Health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba, blamed migrants for overburdening the health system. 

Kalafong Hospital CEO Dr Sello Matjila said Dudula members forced people to produce identity documents before they entered the premises,

Kalafong employees: denying healthcare is dangerous

“If they feel you come from another country and don’t have an ID, they may deny you entry. We also don’t know how many citizens may have been denied access because of this,”  Matjila said.

The interdict bans picketers from threatening and preventing patients and hospital employees from entering the facility. 

 *Tshego Booi, an employee at the hospital’s Risk Management Unit, said the denial of healthcare would have an irreversible impact on the public health system and the population. 

 “The patient’s condition may worsen due to the delay in accessing healthcare. The financial aspect in terms of the cost of medication and care that they will require due to the worsened condition,” he said.

“Right to healthcare is for those here legally”

 Operation Dudula defended its actions and denied intimidating patients trying to enter the facility. However, Elias Makgwadi, the movement’s Tshwane regional coordinator, said the hospital should make people produce identity documents to be treated.

 “We can’t allow people to receive these services when they are here illegally when our people in SA struggle to access medicine. The right to health is for everyone in this country. But the Constitution does not say irrespective of nationality!” said Makgwadi.


Local resident and Dudula supporter Letona Maleka said state healthcare should be only for people legally in SA.

“They are human, so we know they also deserve medical care. But if they are undocumented, their presence in this country is a crime, “he said.

In a statement, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said undocumented migrants are increasingly being denied healthcare.

Dr Tasanya Chinsamy, MSF’s Tshwane medical activity manager, said a 37-week pregnant migrant woman with high blood pressure had to go to a local clinic for care after she was denied entry to the hospital.

“Clinics are not equipped to provide tertiary care for complex cases such as these, which require access to a specialist and certain medications that are only available at a hospital level,”  said  Chinsamy.

Chinsamy warned denying healthcare to one person could lead to dire consequences for everyone.

“Serious notifiable diseases could go unrecorded and untreated, inhibiting the public healthcare system’s overall capacity and ability to contain infectious disease outbreaks,” she said.  

Kalafong doctor says government must solve the issue 

A hospital doctor who spoke to Health-e News on condition of anonymity said they have an obligation to provide care to anyone who arrives at the facility.

“It is our obligation to deal with a patient who is already on the hospital bed and needs medical attention… documented or not. The burden of finding a solution to this problem cannot be on the hospital. It has to be at a different level. There should be controls before a person even enters the country,” he said.

Matijila agreed: “A patient is a patient. We can provide our experiences. But someone else has to decide about the direction we should take as a country while not violating human rights. “

MSF said health authorities must prevent these pickets at hospital entrances. People who need healthcare must be assisted with impartial medical care and treated with dignity. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Health said the public healthcare system struggles to meet citizens’ needs in some areas. This is due to the unpredictably high number of undocumented migrants seeking treatment.

“Despite these challenges, healthcare workers must maintain professional moral obligations and standards according to the Hippocratic Oath. As well as the National Health Act and the Refugee Act of South Africa.”

The department also explained that only primary healthcare services are provided free of charge, but higher levels of care are subject to a fee. – Health-e News




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