11th JULY, BLOEMFONTEIN: The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) welcomes the release of the 127 activists and community healthcare workers who were arrested outside Bophelo House yesterday following a peaceful sit in. They were released on warning and the matter has been remanded for further investigation and instructions from the Director of Public Prosecution. The TAC would like to express their gratitude to the lawyers from Webbers Attorneys in Bloemfontein and SECTION27 for representing the arrested activists.
The activists and community healthcare workers were detained unnecessarily in harsh conditions with limited access to food and in need of critical medication for various conditions such as HIV, TB, diabetes and hypertension. Those arrested included many middle-aged and elderly women workers who have served the health service for many years.
Instead of dealing with the collapsing health system in the Free State – a health system facing drug stockouts, staff shortages, and lacking equipment, ambulances, electricity, toilets and even water – the province is rather cracking down on peaceful campaigners for the right to health. After being released, one of the community health workers Selina Hlabahlaba said: “We were pushed and kicked into the vans even though we weren’t doing anything to harm anyone. We were just standing up for our rights.”
These arrests did not happen in a vacuum. Rather they occurred in the context of a campaign of intimidation against activists in Free State by the provincial government and a lack of proper engagement by government with its citizens. These activists have attempted unsuccessfully to engage with MEC of Health Benny Malakoane and Free State Premier Ace Magashule on several occasions in order to improve conditions in the Provincial health system.
Further evidence released today from the Budget Expenditure and Monitoring Forum (BEMF) show that the Free State Health Department is no longer even considered fit to manage its own budget. Instead financial management authority has been transferred to the provincial treasury due to the provincial department being R700 million in debt.
Given the protest was entirely peaceful, undisruptive and with no threat to people or damage to property, we view the reaction by police as disproportionate to the actions taking place.
We call on the Free State government to explain publicly how it intends to address the collapsing health system, to reinstate all community health workers and to produce a proper plan as to how community health workers will be integrated into the public health system.
Finally we call on the Minister of Health to urgently finalise the long overdue national policy on community health workers.
For more information and to arrange interview contact:
Lotti Rutter 081 818 8493
Marcus Low 082 962 8309
Mary-Jane Matsolo 079 802 2686
· 12th July list of support from partner organisations tac.org.za/news/civil-society-stand-solidarity-arrested-healthworkers-activists
· 11th July Press Statement “We will not retreat”: tac.org.za/news/free-state-update-we-will-not-retreat
· Timeline of events surrounding arrests: tac.org.za/news/timeline-crackdown-free-state-activists-healthworkers
· Results of TAC investigation into Free State Health Crisis: tac.org.za/news/free-state-health-moratorium-round-ii
· The common themes that emerged point to a moratorium on certain health services and speak to an ever-deepening crisis in the province. These include:
1. Some facilities have no equipment and supplies to conduct life-saving tests and monitoring of conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
2. Stockouts and shortages of drugs for many chronic conditions such as TB, HIV, diabetes and epilepsy.
3. No laundry services in several hospitals which means there is no bedding, no theatre gowns, which in turn translates into a suspension of services such as surgery.
4. A shortage of staff with some facilities reporting for example situations where two nurses care for more than 75 ill patients in a ward.
5. Some hospitals have no budget, leading to a suspension of services.
6. No HIV counsellors with dispensing of medication either suspended or prescribed with no counselling.
7. Shortage or complete lack of doctors in hospitals with patients turned away.
8. Lack of water, electricity and toilets in facilities including a maternity clinic.
9. Patchy or non-existent access to emergency medical services such as ambulances.