Monday 15 April

18 January 2023 – SECTION27’s case for pregnant women and children who are denied access to free healthcare services in public facilities has been delayed. On 17 January 2023, an extension was granted to state respondents in our application to confirm the rights of all pregnant women and young children to access free healthcare services at all public health establishments, according to the National Health Act of 2003.

SECTION27 and three affected people launched legal proceedings in May 2022 in the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Johannesburg, against the Gauteng MEC for Health , the Gauteng Head of Department of Health (HOD), the Minister of Health, the Director-General for Health, and the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

In 2020, the Gauteng Department of Health introduced a policy that denies free healthcare services to pregnant women and young children who are asylum seekers, undocumented, or persons affected by statelessness. SECTION27 hopes that the court will set aside the unlawful 2020 policy that the Gauteng Department of Health introduced and grant declaratory relief.

The prolonged delays in the litigation mean that the unlawful policy remains in effect. This means that pregnant women and young children in need of care at public hospitals in Gauteng continue to be met with the dilemma of either paying exorbitant amounts of money to access healthcare services or simply going without critical healthcare services.

Although the legal proceedings were launched in May 2022, by October 2022, the respondents had only filed their notice of intention to oppose, failing to timeously produce a record of documents relating to the state’s decision to introduce the 2020 policy, as well as their answering affidavit. This undue delay in engaging with the litigation led us to place the matter under case management, for the further conduct of the matter under the direct supervision of Deputy Judge President Sutherland.

At the first case management meeting held on 6 October 2022, it became clear that the state attorney had yet to consult with its clients, 5 months after SECTION27 launched the litigation. Judge Sutherland granted the respondents 6-weeks to release the record. However, on 16 November 2022, the respondents failed to meet the deadline to furnish us with the record.

On 23 November 2022, at the second case management meeting, the state attorney confirmed that they had yet to consult with their clients. The court then decided that by 16 January 2023: (1) the respondents file their answering affidavit; and (2) the attorney for the respondents and the Gauteng HOD of Health each file an affidavit explaining the causes for the delays occasioned by them.

Despite the numerous extensions, by 16 January 2023, the directives were still not adhered to. Instead, the state attorney addressed a letter to Judge Sutherland, requesting yet another extension to 6 February 2023. This request has been granted.

The delays by the state respondents not only undermine the constitutional and statutory rights of women and young children, but they also adversely affect the health outcomes of such persons. This continued state of affairs is both untenable and inhumane. We look forward to receiving the state respondents’ papers on 6 February 2023 and to the hearing of this important matter.

 

For media queries, contact Pearl Nicodemus | nicodemus@section27.org.za | 082 298 2636


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