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Hundreds of health activists concerned with the state of public healthcare in Gauteng, together with cancer patients marched to the office of Premier David Makhura in Newtown on Tuesday. According Linda Greef, the chairperson of Cancer Alliance, the province is battling a serious crisis that’s been worsened by poor management. “We are asking the premier for an urgent and serious intervention in the state of hospital facilities in the province, especially the issue of staff shortage,” said Greef.

The advocacy group had declared earlier that in Gauteng alone, over 2,000 patients were still waiting to receive cancer treatment. “We are marching today for the dignity of cancer patients. This is a historic moment for us because we have never taken such radical action before. This shows that things have changed in the cancer advocacy space;” said Greef. “Having cancer treatment is a privilege for people on medical aids. But for those dependent on a broken public health system, their human rights are discriminated against on a daily basis;” she added.

Organisations that marched in solidarity on Tuesday include Section 27 and health advocacy group, the Treatment Action Campaign. TAC national chairperson, Sibongile Tshabalala told the marchers that they cannot sit and do nothing while people are dying. “We demand that the premier establish a task team to address the cancer crisis in Gauteng,” said Tshabalala. The waiting lists for sensitive and potentially life-saving cancer treatment, she added, are getting longer and longer.”We are losing patients. We are losing our brothers and sisters. Many people now fear going to public hospitals because they might not come back. They face bad treatment from staff and are also denied proper medication.”

Cancer Alliance project manager and activist , Salomé Meyer pleaded with health MEC in Gauteng, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi, to go with activist groups and work with them if she wants to see better health services in Gauteng. Meyer told Mokgethi that they don’t want to see the situation where cancer treatment equipment is bought and like a photocopy machine, never gets used. Meyer revealed that radiation equipment was bought for Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital but was in a storeroom because it can’t be used without a bunker to install it in.

The memorandum of demands was accepted and signed by Mokgethi on behalf of Makhura. The health MEC apologised to cancer patients and said her department was doing its best to offer much improved and better service to them. She said they have opened a comprehensive oncology unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

Addressing the march, Mokgethi said the department was working on a plan to see more hospitals offer radiation treatment as Charlotte Maxeke was the only one doing it in Johannesburg. She said that if the machines at Bara were working, the pressure on the overburdened cancer unit at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital could be eased.

According to Section27 some cancer patients in the public sector are forced to wait up to five years for potentially life-saving therapies. “Many cancer patients, who cannot afford private sector treatment, are paying with their lives because of government’s delays. The time for hot air promises and indabas is long past, and activists demand that the Gauteng government take meaningful action NOW to address backlogs in access to cancer treatment,” the organisation said in a statement. 

Last month, hundreds of members from the TAC marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to hand over a memorandum of demands to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Health Joe Phaahla,  pushing them to address a collapsing public health system and rampant corruption in the national department of health.