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It is with great sadness that Cape Mental Health has learned of the appalling situation which led to the death of 94 mental health care users in Gauteng. We welcome the release of the report by the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru W Makgoba, into the death of these mental health care users who were relocated without proper care and due process, and applaud his swift action and unwavering commitment to exposing the truth.

We support the swiftest possible action against those responsible and also expect to see the remaining mental health care users affected by this to be transferred to suitable facilities as a matter of utmost urgency.

Since these patients had been moved from the care of the Life Healthcare Esidimeni and placed into the care of various NGOs in Gauteng in March 2016, 94 have died and the number could still rise. The Health Ombud has found that all 27 NGOs involved in this were operating under invalid licences and that all patients who died at these facilities did so under unlawful circumstances.

In the coming days the fallout of this tragedy will become more clear and we support the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) in whatever action it deems fit to implement at a national level. The matter needs to be addressed at the highest levels, to ensure justice for those who died and whose families continue to suffer their loss.

The report, which was released on Wednesday, 1 February, highlighted the worrying disconnect between the national and provincial Departments of Health regarding the process of deinstitutionalisation and the blatant disregard for the Mental Health Policy Framework which should be guiding mental health care services in South Africa. For too long mental health has been neglected and given low priority in the national health sector, and it is time that this is rectified with prompt action to show that Government is committed to the care of mental health care users. The fact that mental health care users could die due to starvation, dehydration or hypothermia while in the care of any organisation is a violation of their human rights and dignity. These deaths show the urgent need for an accountable mental health system which prioritises the human rights of mental health care users.

Cape Mental Health, as the oldest mental health care organisation calls for a national day of mourning following this, and appeals to the media, the health care community, corporations and civil society to support us in this endeavour to raise awareness of the gross disregard for human life that led to this point.

[ Posted 7 February 2017 ]

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