Slide background
Slide background

Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Water woes at Helen Joseph hospital linked to at least one death: SAHRC

03 June 2021

Water woes at Johannesburg's Helen Joseph Academic Hospital have been linked to at least one death, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Thursday.
Commission spokesperson Buang Jones said the man, a renal dialysis patient, had died because of a “combination of factors, which includes the water interruption” in the area.

“They had to postpone his treatment and this was occasioned by other factors, including the recent water interruptions.

“We think the hospital is the best place to provide information on what happened to the patient, but the commission received this information from the medical practitioner responsible for renal dialysis at the hospital,” he told TimesLIVE on Thursday night.

Jones said the commission was told that the hospital had to turn away some patients and also restrict operations due to the water issues. Non-essential operations and procedures also had to be postponed, he said.

During a stakeholder engagement on water disruptions and the impact on healthcare services at the hospital, Helen Joseph CEO Relebohile Ncha said that if treatment of a patient requiring renal dialysis was interrupted for long periods, it could lead to mobility issues and even mortality.

“For renal dialysis, we need consistent provision of high volumes of water that also has a purification system that occurs. If you look at an individual patient, that patient will need about 500ml per minute to go through that machine of the renal dialysis and that leads to about 30 litres per hour per patient.

“If we look at ascension for dialysis in an ideal situation where we put patients in the system for about four hours that would equate to about 120 litres per session. Our facility can take up to 26 patients per session — so about 3,100 litres is used for that particular session,” she said.

Jones said that during the commission's visit to assess the impact of the water disruptions on healthcare services at the hospital, a number of challenges were raised.

“The hospital could not sterilise its surgical equipment. This leads to delays in work in the theatre. They had to sterilise their equipment at other facilities, they also had to borrow instruments from other facilities. They could not use the boiler as the hospital did not have enough water,” he said.

Jones said the hospital expressed concern that when there was a water interruption it could result in drainage fixtures smelling, a possibility of having rodents enter the building and also result in the creation of a breeding ground for bacteria, which could lead to outbreaks.

He said the hospital CEO said she could not vouch for the cleanliness of the facility.

Jones said they were satisfied by the outcome of the engagement, where Joburg Water promised that the water supply would be fully restored within five days.

He said the commission would monitor this commitment.

“We are concerned about the impact of this on the functions of the hospital. At the moment the hospital is not in a position to quantify the cost they have incurred as a result of this water interruption. We are saddened that this water interruption had to result in the loss of life and we hope that this will not happen again,” he said.

DA Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom said water security measures were urgently needed for Gauteng public hospitals as patients suffered as a result of persistent water failures by Johannesburg Water and Rand Water.

“It is completely unacceptable that operations are cancelled, wards are smelly, and toilets are filthy because of the water shortage. A nurse has described the state of a casualty ward 'as if they slaughtered a cow in there'," said Bloom.

Bloom said water security at Gauteng hospitals had been neglected for too long.


The South African Human Rights Commission.

Follow the SAHRC

About us

The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

27 Stiements Street, Braamfontein

011 877 3600 (Switchboard)