Corruption in the healthcare system means the Covid-19 pandemic is even deadlier than you think, according to Corruption Watch researcher Melusi Ncana, who wrote the latest report by the nongovernmental organisation into graft in the sector.
Titled X-Ray: The Critical State of South Africa’s Healthcare System, the report arrived while numerous provincial governments were being slammed for their slow delivery of essential health resources to fight the scourge of Covid-19. These include field hospitals, ICU beds and personal protective equipment.
According to the report, out of 28,000 whistleblowers who lodged complaints with Corruption Watch – and in the eight-year period under review – almost 3% of them pertain to health matters. In terms of annual trends, the report says, about 14.7% of corruption cases were gathered in 2012 with a peak of 17.7% in 2017 and a decrease to 15.9% in 2018.
The bulk of these cases, 39%, came from Gauteng. But shocking examples of gross misappropriation of funds, for instance, could be found in every province, said Ncana including, the Eastern Cape where in one health facility, the specifications of a tender were altered to the benefit of “greedy officials” who stood to benefit from a service provider for circumcisions.
The facility had budgeted to perform 10,000 circumcisions at R750 per procedure, but to line the pockets of officials involved in the process, the number was increased to 260,000 circumcisions.
While corruption has always been a contributor to avoidable loss of life in the healthcare system, SA cannot afford to let corruption overrule government’s mandate to deal with Covid-19, said deputy president of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union Fikile Dikolomela-Lengene, who works at a major Gauteng clinic.
Corruption, she said, was literally killing people during the pandemic. Nurses in state facilities in Gauteng have also had to stand by helplessly as patients die unnecessarily.
The most recent example is the medical oxygen shortage in a number of facilities, including the Covid-19 field hospital in Nasrec. As long as corruption is unchecked, warns Ncana in the report, laws and regulations of the state are undermined and the lives of those who are highly dependent on the public purse are in ruin.
“Ultimately, if the cost of corruption is not merely a stolen rand here and there, but a precious life, how much farther do we have to drift from our moral compass before we act?”