HEALTH ACTIVISTS AND CANCER PATIENT GROUPS WELCOME REOPENING OF CHARLOTTE MAXEKE JOHANNESBURG ACADEMIC HOSPITAL

Health activists and cancer patient groups welcome the instruction by Gauteng Premier David Makhura to reopen Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) in phases, starting from Monday 28 June 2021. 

The Premier has announced that sections of the hospital which were not structurally damaged by the fire which gutted parts of the hospital on 16 April 2021 will begin reopening next week, including the oncology department. This is welcome news for cancer patients who require radiation oncology in Johannesburg, as no other public hospitals in the city have the equipment or expertise to offer this potentially life-saving treatment to everyone who needs it.

It is now up to officials in the Gauteng Department of Health, City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development and Property Management, as well as the hospital’s own leadership, to ensure that the reopening is done safely and quickly. We, as civil society groups, intend to monitor the reopening to ensure it is expedited, while ensuring that the safety and human rights of all patients are upheld.   

This comes after continued calls from clinicians and civil society for particularly the oncology department – which was not damaged by the fire – to be reopened as a matter of urgency.  But bureaucratic processes were drawn out, in part, because of conflict between the government departments responsible for the infrastructure and management of the hospital. This, in turn, led to delays in the reopening of the department – and other structurally sound sections of the hospital – by over two months. 

These delays have exacerbated pre-existing backlogs in radiation oncology care.  CMJAH is the largest provider of radiation oncology in the country, and the only public hospital in Johannesburg to offer these treatments. Before the closure of CMJAH because of the fire, there was a backlog of over 1,000 patients who needed radiation oncology. Because of the continued red-tape and impediments to opening, this backlog has grown – putting more and more cancer patients’ lives at risk. 

In the immediate term, Premier Makhura’s announcement of reopening of the oncology department is a victory for cancer patients in the city. In the medium term, it is crucial that government takes the necessary steps to ensure that the radiation oncology department at CMJAH is fully compliant with safety standards including the installation of radiation doors. 

In the interest of transparency, civil society calls for the plan for the reopening of the hospital to be made public, including information on proposed time-frames and responsible stakeholders. It is also crucial that hospital management examine patient records to determine how many cancer patients were unable to access radiation oncology during the period of hospital closure, and create a plan to follow-up with these patients to ensure that they are able to complete their treatments.  We call on the management of the hospital and other responsible government departments to heed the Premier’s instruction, expedite the reopening and develop a catch-up programme for missed cancer treatments.

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