At least 94 patients with mental health issues died after South African authorities moved them from hospitals to unlicensed health facilities that were likened to concentration camps, a government investigation has revealed.
Many of the deaths were due to pneumonia, dehydration, and diarrhea as the patients have hurriedly moved to 27 “poorly prepared” facilities in an apparent cost-cutting measure that showed evidence of neglect.
The health ombudsman report, which has sparked an uproar, detailed how some patients were collected from the Life Esidimeni hospital in Gauteng province last year using open pickup trucks.
As the scandal broke, the provincial health minister, Qedani Mahlangu, resigned over the findings, which directly implicated her in the move.
According to the report, which was reportedly compiled after 80 hours of listening to family members and inspectors during the investigation – relatives were left in the dark over where the patients were, in unheated centres that some witnesses said were like concentration camps.
The centres also failed to provide seriously ill patients with enough food and water, leaving them severely malnourished, underweight and in some cases dying from dehydration.
Gauteng’s provincial health department had terminated its longstanding contract with the Life Esidimeni hospital and moved more than 1,300 patients to an “unstructured, unpredictable, substandard caring environment”, the report said.
“One person has died from a mental health-related illness. None of the 93 [others] have died from a mental illness,” the health ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, told local media as the report was released.
“The Gauteng health department took patients from a licensed institution and handed them over to unlicensed facilities.”
Makgoba said the death toll was likely to rise as investigations continued into the scandal.
The report pointed towards the neglect that led to the deaths being caused by profit-seeking. The 27 healthcare centres “were mysteriously and poorly selected” and were “unable to distinguish between the highly specialised non-stop professional care requirements … and a business opportunity”, it said.
Gauteng’s premier David Makhura vowed to hold accountable all the responsible officials.
The opposition Democratic Alliance party expressed outrage over the findings, and accused the government of lying about the death toll when reports of the tragedy began to emerge.
“Criminal charges should also be laid against all implicated parties,” said the party’s provincial shadow health minister.