KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo. Picture: SOWETAN
KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo. Picture: SOWETAN

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo will square up on Monday to the South African Human Rights Commission‚ which last year slated his department for its failure to provide adequate cancer treatment for the province’s sick.

In a report‚ the commission found the department had "violated the rights" of cancer patients at two facilities under investigation‚ largely because of a lack of working equipment and staff shortages.

Last month the commission criticised Dhlomo’s department for its slow response to the problems‚ despite the report having been issued being more than 10 months ago.

"Ten months later and after many exchanges of correspondence and meetings with the KwaZulu-Natal provincial department of health‚ the commission remains concerned at the lack of meaningful progress. The commission has noted the numerous reports that many cancer patients still lack access to timely and appropriate oncology health care and that some may have already died‚" the statement‚ issued in April‚ read.

As a result‚ the commission said it had issued Dhlomo with a notice to appear before it "to produce certain information and documentation as well as answer questions under oath that will be posed to him to enable the commission to decide on what action to take in order to positively impact on this undesirable situation".

Speaking to the media ahead of his budget speech last week‚ Dhlomo said he was prepared to meet with the commission to explain the challenges — most of which‚ particularly those involving machines for cancer treatment‚ he said were out of the department’s hands.

He admitted the commission might not agree that the repair of the oncology machines "is a variable that is beyond your capacity"‚ but said this would be discussed at the hearing.

Dhlomo was also adamant he was able to offer good news in terms of the progress in dealing with the backlog of patients‚ saying that operations "have not ground to a halt".

During his budget speech itself‚ Dhlomo said that both the new and repaired oncology machines at Addington Hospital — one of those which fell under the commission’s investigation — would be up and running and being used on patients by the end of June.

While this was happening‚ the hospital continued to see about 450 patients a month for chemotherapy treatment.

Other hospitals treatment patients were also doing well. These included:

• Grey’s Hospital‚ where four oncologists attend to a total of about 140 new patients and 500 follow-up patients each month;

• Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital‚ where a contract has been signed with the Wits Health Consortium‚ which undertook to provide three oncologists for eight hours a day — meaning that 150 new patients and 300 follow-up patients will be seen each month;

• In the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal‚ for the first time‚ the department has collaborated with the Joint Medical House of Oncologists‚ based at the Richards Bay Private Hospital‚ to treat public sector cancer patients; and

• A satellite site has been created‚ operating out of the Ngwelezane/Queen Nandi Hospital complex to cater for patients that are referred for radiotherapy by other health districts.

"Working in conjunction with the national Department of Health‚ we are continuing with our efforts of head-hunting and also concentrating on importing oncologists from Cuba and/or India‚" said Dhlomo.

But DA member of the provincial legislature Imran Keeka‚ whose complaint led to the Human Rights Commission launching its investigation‚ has questioned the department’s capacity to deal with the oncology crisis. He said he would attend Monday’s hearing.

"The DA is hopeful that the [commission] will see through MEC Dhlomo’s lacklustre excuses. We also expect the [commission] to demand from him the number of patients that have died as a result of his ineptitude.

"Above all‚ we expect the [commission] to hold him accountable for the suffering and death he has caused‚" he said.