The deaths of 94 mental health patients are now being dubbed as the biggest South Africa scandal, urging the provincial health minister to hand in her resignation. Damning reports of the way authorities have moved the patients from hospitals to unlicensed health facilities that were likened to concentration camps are recently revealed in an investigation led by the government. Most of the deaths were linked to pneumonia, dehydration and diarrhea as the patients were hastily transferred to 27 ill-equipped facilities in an apparent cost-cutting move.
The shocking deaths are evidence of neglect, the health ombudsman reports, sparking uproar across the country. The report details how 1,300 mental patients were relocated from Life Esidimeni hospital last year to poorly-prepared, unlicensed facilities using open pickup trucks.
As the South African scandal broke, Qedani Mahlangu, Gauteng province health minister, immediately resigned, a move which people say directly implicates her.
A compilation of 80 hours of family and inspectors interviews sheds light on the inhuman condition that the mental health patients suffered. It was found that relatives of the patients were left in the dark over the location of their family member, and that patients were forced to stay in unheated centers that some witnesses describe as like concentration camps, The Guardian reports.
The unlicensed centers also did not provide seriously ill patients enough food and water, resulting to severe malnutrition, and in some cases, dying from dehydration. The reason for the tragedy was Gauteng’s provincial health department termination of its longstanding contract with the Life Esidimeni hospital in a move to cut costs. Psychiatric patients were hurriedly moved to an “unstructured, unpredictable, substandard caring environment”, the report said.
“One person has died from a mental health-related illness. None of the 93 [others] have died from a mental illness,” the health ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, says after the release of the report. According to the Eye Witness News, the Democratic Alliance party are outraged over the findings, accusing the government of covering up the death toll when reports of the tragedy surfaced. Makgoba predicts that the death toll is likely to rise as investigations continues into the South African scandal.