Mkhize’s legacy of shame: Baby deaths, doctor and nurse shortages, a collapsed Eastern Cape health system

In March 2021, Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize was asked why he had not placed the Eastern Cape Department of Health under administration.

Three months later, with at least six newborn babies dead, specialist services for children with cancer collapsing and a dangerously low number of Covid-19 beds available in one metro, neither Mkhize nor his officials have given an answer.

Calls for Mkhize to resign or be fired were instead anchored in his alleged involvement with Digital Vibes, a communications company appointed by the national Department of Health that is being investigated for allegedly paying money to the Mkhize family.

None of these calls, however, mentions the human rights crisis that was already close to full-blown in March, when Mkhize last visited the Eastern Cape.

Senior health officials told him in March 2021 that the Eastern Cape Health Department would run out of money by July.

When health officials sounded the alarm, three babies were dead at Dora Nginza Provincial Hospital in Gqeberha because of hospital-acquired infections in a shockingly overcrowded neonatal unit, where one nurse sometimes had to look after 28 babies. Since then another three babies have died in preventable accidents in the ward.

One of the province’s main Covid-19 hospitals, Livingstone Hospital in Gqeberha, is only able to provide four ICU beds and does not have enough doctors or money to provide 24-hour medical care to those admitted to the Covid-19 ward.

The Paediatric Oncology Unit, which is part of Livingstone Hospital, is facing closure as dire staff shortages make it unsafe for children to be treated there.

After four years, Livingstone, one of the province’s main tertiary hospitals, still only had an acting CEO with no permanent appointment being made.

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