Picture: Makwena Manamela.
Picture: Makwena Manamela.

Until 2016‚ the Mpumalanga health department had always depended on Gauteng to take in its patients in need of mental healthcare, as it does not have a psychiatric hospital of its own.

When the Gauteng health department decided to start moving patients from Life Esidimeni home to nongovernmental organisations (NGOs)‚ Gauteng reviewed its understanding with Mpumalanga‚ leaving the province stranded‚ not knowing what to do with its influx of patients.

Mpumalanga then entered into a memorandum of understanding with Limpopo‚ which despite its own constraints‚ has taken in patients transferred from its neighbouring province.

It was not immediately clear whether Mpumalanga footed the bill for its patients in Limpopo.

This was revealed by officials from both Mpumalanga and Limpopo‚ who were testifying before the South African Human Rights Commission on Wednesday. The commission was probing the state of mental healthcare in the country following the deaths of more than 140 patients after they were moved from Esidimeni to unlicensed NGOs‚ some of whom had no infrastructure‚ medication‚ food or staff to properly care for the ill.

Sarah Gumede of the Mpumalanga health department told the commission that several unlicensed NGOs had mushroomed in the province‚ particularly in the KwaMhlanga area‚ since the closure of Life Esidimeni.

Gumede said these organisations were not claiming any funds from the department but relied on the patients’ social services grant to survive.

Cheryl Nelson‚ also of the Mpumalanga health department‚ told the commission that the province had experienced an increase in the number of patients in need of mental healthcare. She attributed this to the high levels of substance abuse seen in the mostly rural province.

Mpumalanga is also without an oncology department and relies on Gauteng to take in its patients.

Nelson explained that‚ until 2014‚ the province was without a tertiary institution‚ resulting in a shortage of medical professionals in the area. The newly launched University of Mpumalanga still does not offer a medical degree.

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