South African Human Rights Commission – Report into KZN Cancer Treatment Crisis



In a damning report by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department and MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo will have to answer why and how possibly thousands of Cancer patients have gone without treatment being left to die.

The report highlighted that in the province cancer patients have had to wait at least five months to see an oncologist. To further compound this they patients would have to wait another eight months after diagnosis before they can receive radiotherapy. Radiotherapy being the suggested treatment for patients suffering from cancer. Totaling over a year’s wait for treatment at thirteen months.

The problem stems from the Provincial department refusing to pay for a maintenance contract on two state of the art radiotherapy machines at Durban’s Addington Hospital. This caused and departure of senior oncologists from the hospital in protest to this refusal to pay for the upkeep of the R120-million machines.

These machines were instrumental in slashing those previously mentioned waiting times from five months to a mere two weeks. With a disease such as cancer time is of the essence to save lives and improve the patient’s quality of life. This is further backed up with international guidelines state that patients should receive treatment within 28 days of diagnosis.

The SAHRC has order in the report the department immediately repair both machines and remove the current backlog of patients waiting for care. This however, has no set time frame as the department has no oncologists left in Durban and only two remaining in Pietermaritzburg.

The report goes on further to say that the department knowing of the crisis and short fall of service had a duty to employ more staff and putting in place adequate screening, diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients. As well as an investigation into the health department be done by the Health Ombudsman and Premier Willies Mchunu into whether the Health MEC responded adequately to the matter in the short and long term.

The respondents in this matter were MEC Dhlomo, Addington Hospital, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital (IALC) and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, headed by Dr Sifiso Mtshali. The report states “The respondents have violated the rights of patients with cancer at the Addington and IALHC Hospitals to have access to health care services as a result of their failure to comply with applicable norms and standards set out in legislation and policies.”