A full dispensary of essential medicines has been trapped inside a dormant Free State clinic for half a year because the provincial health department has not paid rent, according to healthcare workers and activists.
"We're talking boxes and boxes of medicine – ARVs, tuberculosis drugs, hypertension medications – that are stuck there expiring while there are shortages of ARVs in other parts of the province," said Sello Mkhaliphi from the province's branch of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
In October last year, patients and healthcare workers were shooed off the premises of Central Park clinic in Bloemfontein, which is a mere 500m from MEC for health in the Free State Benny Malakoane's office.
"When he opens his office window he sees that facility – his innermost man must scold him about the resources that have been left in that facility," Mkhalipi said.
Malakoane was arrested in July last year on charges of corruption, relating to crimes allegedly committed while he was the municipal manager at Matjhabeng local municipality in Welkom, from 2007 to 2010. The case has been postponed to May 16.
Free State "one of the worst""Free State is one of the worst managed provincial health departments," said head of social justice organisation Section27 Mark Heywood. He said if the situation is not resolved Section27 and TAC might have to consider legal action.
An HIV counsellor who worked at Central Park clinic, and who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said that equipment, drugs and patient files were all locked up in the facility when it was shut down six months ago.
"Most of these patients were told to go to Chris de Wet clinic, which is a small facility and has now become overcrowded," the counsellor said. "These days it's already very busy at 7am, with lots of people waiting. It never used to be like that before."
Bhekisisa has obtained information which confirmed that an amount of R448 587 is owed by the Free State health department to the landlord. But Broll Property Group, which manages the premises said this amount could not be confirmed as its landlord was out of the country.
Mondli Mvambi, acting spokesperson for the provincial health department, said that there was a contractual dispute about how much money was owed to the landlord.
"We are finalising the payment of the agreed upon amount for us to retrieve our equipment and medication. This we expect to happen by next week," he said. "We will then distribute this medication to other clinics in the province."
Mvambi said he could not provide Bhekisisa with the agreed upon amount by the time of going to print, as he could not get this information from the provincial department of public works.
"We have tried to get hold of the CFO [chief financial officer] but he is not available and is not answering his phone."
LocationMvambi said Central Park clinic won't be reopened because its location "wasn't conducive" to the services it was providing to patients, as it is located in a busy part of Bloemfontein's CBD.
However, Mkhaliphi said many of this clinic's patients were employed and liked the convenience of the location as it was, in most cases, close to their place of work.
"We need more facilities in the province, not fewer. Shutting down facilities and forcing patients to travel further to overcrowded facilities will only make it easier for patients to default on treatment. Benny Malakoane doesn't mind closing down clinics, because he is not feeling the pain of the consequences."
According to Mvambi the local government is looking for a new premises to relocate the clinic to.
The Free State had the biggest ARV and tuberculosis medicine shortages in the country with more than half of the facilities surveyed reporting a lack of essential drugs, according to a November 2013 report by pressure group, the Stop Stock Outs Project.
"The response from the Free State government to this report was one of denial and hostility," said Heywood. "This suggests they have done nothing to fix the system because their response to any exposé or criticism is to deny there is anything wrong with the system in the first place."
Mvambi insisted the medicine locked up in the building has been checked and it is well within its expiry date. He also said the clinic was only shut down in January this year.
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