The right to healthcare is a right that’s intricately linked to our right to life. Not only because not having any can result in death but because it so deeply affects our quality of life. A person’s right to quality healthcare and life should not be determined by their socio-economic status.
A few months ago my son developed a cold. His nose was runny and blocked, he coughed and occasionally had a fever. Soon thereafter he started throwing up. His fever got worse and he weakened drastically and eventually got into such a bad state that I had to take him to hospital. We arrived just after 6pm. I waited as a file was opened for him and joined the queue. His fever continued to soar and he grew paler by the minute. Red circles formed around his eyes and he was getting weaker. With every fibre of my being I wanted to scream out for someone to attend to my son but the haunted look in the eyes of the woman in front of me kept me quiet. Like me she too wanted her son to be attended to and so did all the other women in the queue.
The doctor saw us close to 11pm and put him on a drip despite not answering my questions about what was in it and what it was for. We were sent for X-rays and returned to re-join the queue. Only after midnight was my son admitted to the paediatric ward. I looked around and noticed that most of the children were not covered as they slept despite the cold. The hospital provided no blankets. I was lucky, my son had a thick, warm blankey I’d brought along and a soft one I’d wrapped him in before covering him.
One of the women needed boiled water and formula to make a bottle for her screaming infant. She had to wait because the nurses were busy and patients were not allowed in the kitchen. Her son cried, not understanding why mommy would not feed him. During the night I made him a bottle. I had brought a flask with boiled water and my own formula — my son didn’t have to wait. The thought stung me.
The next morning the women queued up outside leaving their wailing children behind. They returned with two nappies each. Two nappies for children with diarrhoea? Each time I changed my son’s nappy I was again painfully conscious of how privileged I was. The women spoke about their time here, for many it was not their first and said their children just never seemed to get better.
The doctor eventually came around and examined my son, I asked him more questions. Again, no answers.
I left the hospital after a few days with nothing but a vitamin B and zinc supplement. My son’s symptoms returned, worse than ever. I made arrangements to have him see a private paediatrician. He received a thorough examination. The cause of illness — a number allergies — was explained. Diagrams and models were used to better help me understand what was wrong with him. I was advised how to care for his condition because the allergies could lead to a serious condition. Following that I was taken step-by-step through the prescription. Reasons were given for the medication and the side-effects were discussed, with dosage and use explained to me.
The total expenditure for his care in the private sector came to about R2 500. This is a lot of money, which many in South Africa do not have to spare. I earn no regular income and even when I do, it’s on the lower side. I’m aware that I enjoy social support most mothers don’t have. Support which has me sure that no matter how bad things get, my children will always be cared for. I cannot say my son would have died had he not been taken to a private doctor but I do know the supplements the hospital gave us were inadequate and he would still be untreated had we not had a choice.
Who knows what could have happened then? Who knows what happens to the many other children whose mothers have no alternative?