Half of patients being treated or giving birth at SA hospitals are illegal foreigners: Minister Joe Phaahla

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The Department of Health is conducting a study on the treatment of foreign nationals at South African health facilities after it emerged that at some hospitals more than half of patients being treated or giving birth there are undocumented foreigners.

This comes amid rising xenophobic sentiment in the country, with Operation Dudula led by 36-year-old pilot, Nhlanhla Lux Dlamini, at the forefront.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla and his department's leadership presented their Annual Performance Plan to the Select Committee on Health and Social Services on Tuesday.

ANC MP and committee chairperson Maurencia Gillion asked Phaahla why the department treats foreign nationals.

Phaahla responded that the Department of Home Affairs guides the department in following international conventions on refugees and asylum seekers.

He said foreigners were not "really the major issue", but that undocumented migrants were a cause of "major stress".

In some cases, they don't live in South Africa, but cross the border to access medical services, particularly maternity services. This happens in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Limpopo. It is estimated that between 40 and 60% of mothers who deliver in some hospitals are undocumented immigrants, he revealed.

According to Phaahla, the problem is that undocumented migrants arrive unannounced at health facilities without having undergone any antenatal treatment.

"They just arrive, and they don't even have proper documents," he said.

The national health department has a team that works with provinces to do a "proper study" so they don't have to rely on anecdotal reports.

There have been suggestions that perhaps, they should send the bill to the patients' governments or embassies so that they can pay for the services, he said. But he added that this would require discussions at a Cabinet level.

Turning to Covid-19, deputy director-general in the health department, Dr Nicholas Crisp, said the infection numbers seem to be stabilising this week.

He said there was a "sustained flickering of an Omicron variant" of the virus that causes the disease.

"We are appealing to people to go and get vaccinated," he added.

Although officials know the vaccination doesn't prevent infection, he said it has a remarkable ability to prevent people from getting very sick.

"We will have to see if there is going to be a new variant," he said, adding that they were watching with the rest of the world.

Phaahla also encouraged South Africans to vaccinate.


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