A look inside Gauteng’s baby ward of death drives HRC to tears

A nurse checks on a baby at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital, Vosloorus, Johannesburg,19 September 2018, during the Human Rights Commission site inspection following reports of six newborns dying due to a Klebsiella pneumonia outbreak at the hospital. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Among other problems, the hospital doesn’t know the whereabouts of six babies who were also infected with klebsiella, but who survived and ‘are being treated’.

Human Rights Commision (HRC) Gauteng provincial manager Buang Jones could barely contain his emotions after an inspection yesterday of the “death ward” at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus, where six babies died in an outbreak of the klebsiella virus.

“We are pained at the commission that 24 years into our democracy, we still have kids that are dying due to poor management and poor healthcare in the province,” he said.

The commission carried out an inspection at the hospital, looking to understand why the babies had died, because the deaths would have been avoidable if there were proper hygiene measures in place.

Ironically, a hospital manager, Constance Ndobe, tried to assure the commission that campaigns were under way to get staff to disinfect their hands on entry to the baby ward. Why this is not standard practice was not explained by Ndobe.

Patient files at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital, Vosloorus, Johannesburg, 19 September 2018, during the Human Rights Commission site inspection. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

The HRC personnel and a contingent of media were made to wash their hands in disinfectant when entering the baby section, but were not asked to put on protective clothing or face masks.

Jones said the commission had discovered there were deep rooted leadership issues in the hospital – which was common among Gauteng hospitals – and it was a huge cause for concern.

The CEO of the hospital, Dr Nomonde Mqhayi-Mbambo, has been suspended. Ndobe said the suspended CEO had “done the best she could” in the circumstances.

Other staff members, including nurses, expressed their despair at the lack of staff, which meant they were all forced to do more work.

They said when they were given extra staff, often the new people had to be trained and mentored, putting further strain on the permanent staff.

A nurse checks on a baby at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital, Vosloorus, Johannesburg, 19 September 2018, during the Human Rights Commission site inspection following reports of six newborns dying due to a klebsiella pneumonia outbreak at the hospital. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

The commission also identified the unsanitary conditions of the hospital as being the reason for the spread of the klebsiella pneumonia that killed the six babies.

He said although the hospital appeared to be clean from the outside, they were worried that if issues of cleanliness and hygiene persisted more fatalities would occur.

There was still some confusion about the whole episode, with the HRC expressing amazement after being told that Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi had ordered the shutting of the ward, but it remained open.

There was also no clarity on what happened to another six babies who were also infected with klebsiella, but who survived and are being treated. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Ndobe said, however, that the ward’s current occupants would be moved to the Nelson Mandela Children’s hospital or the Charlotte Maxeke hospital.

Patient files at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital, Vosloorus, Johannesburg, 19 September 2018. Picture:Nigel Sibanda

Jones remarked that the complaints from workers of overcrowding and staff shortages were “neither mysterious nor insoluble”.

He said the healthcare system in Gauteng needed to come up with sustainable solutions to these issues and that the key things that would help the hospitals were finance, good leadership and political goodwill which were apparently in short supply for many years.

He urged whistleblowers or anyone who had more information about the crisis at the hospital to come forward to assist them in their investigation because they intended to leave no stone unturned as they sought justice.

“We will be assisting the families of the deceased with legal options to ensure they get compensation from the government and to ensure they do not have to get legal representation anywhere else.

“The commission is a constitutional body and so we will assist them free of charge and play the role of the mediator,” said Jones.

jenniffero@citizen.co.za

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