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The Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (HAITU) has provided evidence to the North Gauteng High Court that Eskom is violating basic human rights by implementing loadshedding. HAITU is part of a court case with UDM, NUMSA and various organisations to exempt public health care facilities and other critical sectors of the economy, from loadshedding. HAITU has provided evidence demonstrating the destructive impact of loadshedding on the public health care system. Loadshedding costs lives because people are dying every single day in our hospitals because of persistent rolling blackouts.
The right to human dignity, and the right to life are being violated and as HAITU, we want this government, as well as Eskom to take responsibility for the loss of human life. HAITU has been at the forefront of calling for all hospitals to be exempt from loadshedding. Eskom cannot use its budgetary constraints as a justification to violate the right to life. We made the following submissions to the court,
“The unqualified nature of the right to life under our Constitution means that the right is not subject to the State’s resource constraints. In other words: Eskom cannot, as it seemingly does in this case, say “I know I am interfering with your right to life, but my budget constraints require me to do so”.
It is our assertion that Eskom is acting unconstitutionally when it implements loadshedding because it interferes with the right to life, and the right to access healthcare services, and the state has a duty to promote these rights.
Professor Rudo Mathiva, a professor in critical care at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital has made detailed submissions on how loadshedding impacts negatively on service delivery at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, including how it damages sensitive medical equipment causing it to become unreliable which makes it life-threatening.
“Central heating and cooling systems of hospitals are damaged or rendered non-functional, which can cause new-borns to suffer hypothermia or hyperthermia, which can kill them. Central heating and cooling systems of hospitals are damaged or rendered non-functional, which means that proper infection protocol cannot be followed, which is life threatening. Laboratory services are delayed, which delays patient treatment, and patient turnover, leading to a shortage of available beds”.
She has even outlined how loadshedding has resulted in specimens not being properly stored leading them to decay and rendering test results inaccurate, which can have deadly consequences.
“Ventilators and oxygenators for home treatment need to be recharged,
but load shedding timetables do not allow sufficient time for them to fully
charge, leading people to suffocate, possibly to death.”
Loadshedding can have devastating consequences when women are in in labour. We made submissions that a lot can go wrong with the birth and this can affect the baby.
“It’s a matter of life and death because the mortality rates go up with every power cut. Especially if a person is on resuscitation or oxygen. If things don’t go as planned, someone dies every time there is a power cut.”
This is also echoed by Professor Mathiva who concludes her affidavit by saying:
“There have been several instances where patients succumb and the cause of death is described in many different ways in circumstances where the cause of death may have actually been due to load shedding.”
You might think that having a generator will solve the problem, but that is not an option for many hospitals and clinics. Most healthcare facilities do not have back-up generators, and even if they do, there is not enough money for diesel. Often hospitals have to choose between spending money on diesel to keep the lights on, and spending money on food for patients. At the same time, hospitals experience difficulty storing food, because the frequent power cuts means, that it rots, and most of it gets wasted, and this leads to some patients suffering from malnutrition as a result.
At the same time our members complain about how loadshedding makes them more vulnerable to criminal activity especially those who are working night shift. That is always when criminals strike. The government has failed to end loadshedding and in so doing, it has breached the right to life and the right to access to health care, and their actions have been conscious, wilful and resulted in a worsening of conditions.
The court case is being heard from Monday 20th March to Thursday 24 March at the North Gauteng High Court.
Issued by The Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union