Earlier this year our Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkize, reiterated:

“We are also mindful that while we focus on this fight against COVID-19, we have a responsibility to ensure the gains made with our HIV, TB and other programs are sustained regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This was confirmed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address earlier this year where he stated that; a “fundamental condition for growth and development is a healthy and productive population, with access to quality and affordable health care”. We continue to put great effort into improving health service delivery and prepare for NHI to achieve universal health coverage.

Though these statements or announcements gives me hope that finally, the people that use public health facilities will have the same or similar quality of health care as those on medical schemes do, I am afraid, that based on my experience, the intention on paper to better the public health care system for those patients that need it, remains ink on paper. It is not being implemented, and as such, people, like myself who have chronic conditions,  are simply “left out in the cold.” 

I went to a public hospital because I don’t have a regular income but needed urgent medical care because I was struggling to breathe. Eventually, after months of steroids, I had to inhale and ingest, I was finally able to walk a few metres.

Yes, I worried about the weight I had gained as a result of the meds, but I felt lucky to be alive.

I was placed on the chronic illness patient lists, and every 2 months, I had to refill my medicine. Progress was slow, but there was an improvement in my health. I started going for acupuncture, threw out most of the unhealthy tablets and changed my eating habits. I was determined to live. In 12 months, I had gone from being unable to get to the toilet to doing basic walking and breathing exercises. I was told I had permanent scarring and damage to my lungs, and so I tried making the necessary adjustments in life for my new reality.

Every small gain, extra steps or even making my bed, was a big win for me. Then Covid19 happened, and immediately I took the precautions necessary to stay alive and keep my family safe as well. We spent money allocated for food to keep me alive! My family sacrificed so much, but it was important to them that I remain healthy.

Here’s the irony though! I was diagnosed with a chronic condition from a state-run hospital and given medication without fail every 2 months. Two weeks ago, I felt too weak to go to the hospital, so I sent my brother, who came back with a note from the hospital saying they had no stock of the medication I needed to maintain my asthma. I was a bit upset but, I was told, (in the note), to call the following week. That week I called them and asked about my medication as I was asked to do and was told, that they had not yet received the stock. When I asked if they had any idea when the medication would arrive as I was running out, the person on the other side of the conversation had no idea. He said I should just keep checking in. I asked if he thought it would come this year at all or only in 2021? He stated he did not know.

Now, I want to know why is it that the Department of Health can simply “run out of meds,” knowing that there are patients that desperately need it? What do I do in the event of an attack when I need to be nebulized? I was told that during Covid19, they aren’t placing any patients other than Covid19 patients on oxygen.

So, I stopped calling for a bit and hoped and prayed that I would not be ill before next year January.

My hopes were dashed this past week when I got the flu!

Almost immediately, I could feel my lungs building up with phlegm. I bought over the counter drugs to keep healthy. It didn’t work! My breathing became more shallow until I was unable to walk a few steps to the toilet. Yes, I panicked because, without the medication meant to maintain my lungs, I am vulnerable to chest infections.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to feeling as if my ears had been covered with earmuffs. I looked around, and it felt as if I was looking through a dirty window or opaque glass. My vision wasn’t as clear like it generally is! I tried walking a few steps, and almost immediately, I was out of breath and struggling to put one foot in front of the other. I felt as if a dark cloud was consuming me.

I knew I needed to be nebulized, but where could I go? Most hospitals close to me were private hospitals that cost a fortune. I simply do not have the money for private health care.

Eventually, my son took me to a doctor I used to go when I was ill. We used the money that was allocated for bread and milk.

The moment the doctor saw me and heard my breathing, he put me on the nebulizer. I have bronchitis, and my asthma is uncontrolled again.

It’s uncontrolled because I was waiting for the medication that keeps it under control. I am now on a course of antibiotics to clear the terrible infection in my lungs and a pump, I had to purchase at R400.

I could have slipped into a coma due to a lack of oxygen then died. I do not understand how the Government can promise on paper, to deliver good health care for all, whilst failing in their obligation to procure the bare minimum that would keep us alive! Relieving not exacerbating the situation is what needs to happen.

I am angry and defeated that this is an everyday occurrence somewhere around the country; whether it’s at hospitals or day clinics.

Instead of maintaining high standards of health care for all people in this country, patients are turned away and left to die.

Diagnosing a patient with a chronic condition, then failing to provide the medication and or care that’s needed for the chronic illness, is as good as throwing me to the curb and leaving me hung out to die.