Health Dept. failing victims of abuse

By Dr Isak Fritz MPL DA Northern Cape Provincial Spokesperson of Health:

The DA is disturbed that the Northern Cape Department of Health is outright failing victims of sexual abuse in the province.

Rape is a significant risk factor for mental health disorders as well as for sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Based on last year’s crime stats, an individual’s chance of becoming a victim of a sexual crime is the highest in the Northern Cape, where 150 people out of every 100 000 fall prey to sexual predators. Given the seriousness and extent of sexual violence in the Northern Cape, the need for accessible, comprehensive and integrated health services is therefore acute.

The provincial government, however, is failing in its moral and public health imperative to provide adequate post rape care services.

This is seen in the dire shortage of practicing forensic nurses throughout health facilities and Thuthuzela Care Centers across the province. In fact, there is only one Professional Nurse in the entire Northern Cape who has a Forensic Nursing Diploma. To make matters worse, in the past financial year, the health department failed to increase the pool of healthcare practitioners in sexual assault case management by even one, despite having a target of 40.

The lack of designated facilities and equipment are also serious challenges in the Clinical Forensic Service unit. This in turn hampers the department’s role of reducing secondary victimization.

While negative mental health consequences can be exacerbated by the ill-informed and judgemental treatment of rape victims by health care workers, secondary victimisation is also perhaps the most preventable of harms arising from an incident of sexual violence.

Given the above, it is clear that a comprehensive response, delivered by trained, sensitive and knowledgeable personnel, is essential to meeting the many health care needs of rape survivors.

The department has indicated that it will draft a business case to source funding to address these challenges.

The DA believes that such a business plan is long overdue.

We urge the department to make haste in clearly identifying the health needs of rape victims as a priority area of concern. At a minimum, this must include the prevention, termination or management of pregnancy; pre-and post-test counselling for HIV, accompanied by post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP); antibiotics to prevent the possible transmission of any other STIs; treatment for any injuries to the body; attention to the psychological needs of rape survivors, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; as well as medico-legal and forensic services in cases where rape survivors choose to report to the police.

The DA will write to Health MEC Mac Jack requesting that the department provides us with a comprehensive plan outlining how they intend turning the tide on forensic services. After all, it is the department’s constitutional obligation to provide access to health care in a manner that protects the rights of victims to dignity, privacy and freedom and security of the person.