South Africa

Foreigners Barred From Clinic Leave Without Life-saving Medicine

A frail-looking teenage girl stood by the gate at the Zandspruit Clinic pleading with a man and a woman who had been threatening and barring non-South African patients from going inside.

She was meant to refill her ARV medication on Tuesday and had been queuing for over two hours but the pair hiding behind face masks stopped her along with other patients they believed were foreigners.

The duo would only allow SA patients to proceed into the facility after they inspected their IDs.  “I’m about to run out of my medication. Please let me in. I have nowhere else to go. The nurses inside have my medical file,” begged the teenager in between coughing.

They ignored her pleas.  Her hopes of going inside died minutes later when police, who were called to intervene, seemingly failed to control the commotion.   The teenager shrugged her shoulders, took a deep breath and then slowly started walking home clutching a small envelope scribbled with her name and medication.

These scenes played themselves out at Zandspruit Clinic, northern Joburg, where foreigners being blocked by unknown people from accessing public healthcare has become a trend. Sowetan witnessed more foreigners being turned away at Cosmo City Clinic on Monday and last week more patients were chased away from Jeppe Clinic in Joburg CBD.

The group claims that foreign patients sell their ARVs to Nigerians who then use it to produce nyaope.  Cosmo City Clinic services about 4,000 patients per month while the area has a population of about 90,000.

Zandspruit has more than 32,000 residents  As she walked off, the teenager said she did not know what her next option for medication was because there was no other clinic in Zandspruit.

Earlier at the same clinic, a staff member was collecting papers from the “excluded” patients and going into a shack across the road to prepare referral letters for them to seek medical attention at other clinics. The letters contained the names of patients and the medication they need, mostly for HIV.

The shack is a privately owned internet and printing business and, according to the health practitioners’ code, medical records can’t be shared with a third party without the patient’s written authorisation.

A Zimbabwean patient said he was disturbed by the rules at the clinic.  “I have been taking my medication at this clinic for the past five years…They refused me access and also do not want to give me my file. This is not right. It means that they want people to die. I have totally run out of medication. I don’t know what to do,” he said.

The wave of people being denied medication raises concerns about people defaulting on their ARVs, something doctors have constantly warned against.  Seeing the situation, a sympathetic healthcare worker at the Zandspruit Clinic shared her contact numbers with excluded patients in an effort to assist them away from the facility.

“We are going to get a gazebo and put it up at Honeydew police station. We will pre-pack their medication and the patients can just come and collect

I am scared to do that here [at the clinic]. We can help even those from Cosmo City.  “We try so hard to get patients to take their medication. If they miss their appointment we shout at them. Now they come to the clinic and they are being chased away.”

Sowetan approached the group who had barred patients at Cosmos City Clinic on Monday but they became aggressive and manhandled the photographer in an attempt to force him to delete the photos he had taken.

“This is how we do things here, re lokisa community ya rona’ [we are fixing our community],” they said.   A clinician at the clinic said they had conceded to the group’s demands.  “It is part of the rules that they have set outside but it is not a clinic issue.

We’ve got nothing to do with it. It is the community and political parties that said they do not want foreigners here and we cannot do anything about it. I think our bosses know about it too,” said the employee.

Johannesburg MMC of health Franco De Lange said there were plans to deploy municipal police to the affected clinics.  “I have been trying to get the group that is chasing people away. I am trying to get a meeting with them so that we can find a solution to this problem,” De Lange said.

He said the department of community safety was planning to stop criminal activity at clinics.

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