Today on Human Rights Day the South African Medical Association (SAMA) believes it’s a pertinent opportunity to remind government of its constitutional obligation to progressively realise the right of citizens to have equal access to quality healthcare.

The theme of Human Rights Day this year is “The Year of OR Tambo: Unity in Action in Advancing Human Rights” with President Jacob Zuma today officially handing over the memorial grave site of Steve Bantu Biko to the Biko family as part of celebrating and promoting unity.

According to SAMA, this is an appropriate reminder to all doctors of the circumstances under which Steve Biko died – it was under the care of doctors who seemingly violated the tenets of the oath they chose to uphold. More recently the country has seen similar examples in the Life Esidimeni saga. Doctors are reminded of their primary loyalty to the care and sanctity of their patient and no other authority.

“More especially, Human Rights Day is extremely important for our country as it reminds us of the sacrifices made to achieve democracy in South Africa. But we must also use this opportunity to highlight those rights challenges our country faces; one of the most pertinent is to ensure all South Africans, irrespective of race, creed, age, gender, or financial standing, have proper access to healthcare. Achieving this should understandably be a priority for government,” said Chairperson of SAMA, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom.

“The Life Esidimeni tragedy highlights that many of the most vulnerable in our society do not receive the care they require. These fellow South Africans need our care and we call on government to protect and respect these rights through tangible action and not merely verbal commitments. We must care for these people – it is an obligation we cannot ignore,” continued Dr Grootboom.

Dr Grootboom added that is the South African healthcare providers’ collective responsibility to ensure the ideals of our constitution are fully realised.

“We cannot sit back and simply wait for the government to create a proper environment. Government must strive to do this, yes, but, as medical and healthcare professionals, we also have a duty to do what we can. And we should never forget that Human Rights Day is not only for those who are financially able to afford healthcare, but for everybody in our country,” concluded Dr Grootboom.

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