The Bill of Rights states that every South African has, among others, the right to equality, human dignity, the right to life, and the right to freedom and security – to not be treated in a cruel, inhumane or degrading way. Quality medical care should therefore be everyone’s basic human right.
Unfortunately, this right seems to be afforded to a select few people who have the means to pay for comprehensive, expensive medical aid schemes. If you’re part of the 11% of South Africans living below the breadline with a combined household income of just R1000 per month, or part of the 6.2 million unemployed people in South Africa, choosing between food or basic healthcare really isn’t a choice.
Never before have I been taught a more powerful lesson in self-awareness, privilege and empathy than when faced with a comparison of public versus private hospitals in South Africa. Just shy of two years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter at a private hospital with panoramic views of Table Mountains and the sandy turquoise beaches of the Cape. While basking my love of this little human, two other moms and I – each in our own separate wards with fresh linen and sparkling water – came together to discuss our new bundles of joy, and both shared their previous birth experiences at public hospitals.
While my birthing experience was distressing, it was a walk in the park lined with plush, ergonomically designed breastfeeding sofas, pre-natal courses, 3-course meals and dedicated nurses bathing me, wiping my tooshie, milking me and serving my pain medication on the hour – compared to what I can describe as harrowing accounts only your worst nightmares are made of. One mom had previously given birth to a baby on the cusp of being a micro preemie and both were discharged a mere three days later. Babies that small either don’t have the sucking reflex yet, or their mouths are simply too tiny to breastfeed, amongst a plethora of other complications. They need 24-hour medical care.
She was given absolutely no education on feeding, bathing, warmth, vaccinations – any valuable information to give both of them a fighting chance. Thankfully, she was resourceful, bought microwave sterilizers, syringes and a breast pump and fed her newborn that way. Today, her daughter is a healthy 9-year old. The other mom’s story involved showering, bathing and eating with her baby in the freezing cafeteria with a painful C-section wound, since, with the lack of high-tech security cameras, access-controlled entry is a luxury and therefore increases the risk of kidnapping…to be continued