The unexplained deaths of three dozen mentally ill patients in a South African province show the need for action to help this vunerable population, the country’s bishops have said.
“As a society, we should never forget that the lives of the mentally
ill are precious before God. The lives of the mentally ill should
therefore be considered to be more important than the dictates of fiscal
efficiency and profit making,” the Justice and Peace Commission of the
South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said Sept. 19.
“The families and the whole country need answers. We send our heartfelt condolences to all affected families.”
Earlier this year, 36 psychiatric patients died within months of
being removed from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni Centre to local NGOs
and other facilities in Gauteng province.
About 2,000 patients were transferred to over 120 other facilities
after the contract was cancelled. The facility had contracted with the
provincial government for more than 40 years.
Many patients' relatives warned that new facilities were unsuitable.
Patients were also transferred without their medical files, the Times of
South Africa reports.
The province includes Johannesburg and the national administrative
Gauteng premier David Makhura said the number of
deaths was worryingly high. He said there has been a “disturbing trend”
of patient deaths in the last five years, the African News Agency
The bishops’ commission was waiting on results of a health department
investigation but voiced “deep concern” that the health department did
not heed warnings from civil society and from patients’ families that
the contract cancellation with the health center and the transfer of
patients was being rushed.
“We therefore continue to ask the health department to put adequate
measures to ensure sustainable levels of control to health care costs,”
the bishops’ commission said. “We reiterate our position that a health
system that puts profit before people, and without adequate measures for
cost control, is both unsustainable for the country and a death
sentence to the poor.”
They said that the health department’s deinstitutionalization plan
for mental health care should not be used “as a pretext to shirk on its
constitutional responsibilities to provide adequate care to the mentally