Pneumococcal meningitis: stealing a young life
By Thabo Twala
Almost 15 years after the possibly preventable death of his son due to the life-threatening infectious disease pneumococcal meningitis, Bongani Luti still has no answers about why nurses at Dewetsdorp clinic did not attend to his son.
The Free State Department of Health’s office for nursing standards compliance has flouted guidelines laid out in the National Complaints Management Protocol for the Public Health Sector of South Africa. This is according to Bongani Luti, an activist for the rights of outsourced workers at the University of the Free State. He spoke to The Journalist and laid out his encounter with this department when he embarked on a journey to find answers to the possibly preventable death of his 5 year-old son, Vusumuzi Thembinkosi Luti in May 2005.
Vusumuzi had been in the care of his grandmother and aunt, Kholiswa Madela, when he suddenly became ill. Madela describes Vusumuzi, prior to the illness, as an active and playful child. They gave him cough medication but soon they realised that his symptoms were becoming worse as the little boy’s coughs were laden with phlegm and by Monday, 23 May 2005, Vusumuzi had begun to lose his sight.
At this point, Madela’s mother took her grandson to Dewetsdorp’s clinic for professional assistance. An attendant at the clinic allegedly told Vusumuzi’s grandmother that most nursing staff were unavailable due to a workshop taking place. She then approached a pharmacist to either assist the child or request an ambulance to rush Vusumuzi to a hospital. But the pharmacist allegedly deferred to instructions from the first attendant they encountered and refused to assist in any way.
The following day, Vusumuzi’s grandmother approached a private practitioner, who referred Vusumuzi to the paediatric clinic of Pelonomi regional hospital where he was admitted on 26 May 2005. It was then discovered, at Pelonomi regional hospital, that Vusumuzi had contracted the life-threatening infectious disease pneumococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord caused by pneumococcal bacteria, which is one of the most life- threatening major forms of meningitis.
Within two days of his admission, on 28 May 2005, Vusumuzi had passed away as a result of the illness at 01:45 am. Luti alleges that he was told by Vusumuzi’s attending doctor that this tragedy may have been prevented if Vusumuzi had been referred to Pelonomi earlier.
On 5 February 2019, The Journalist sent an email to the Free State Department of Health to establish whether appropriate medical training had been given to healthcare providers at Dewetsdorp’s clinic to deal with a medical issue of this nature. No response was forthcoming despite numerous follow up emails and phone calls.
Back in 2005, after the death of his son, Luti told his story to the Daily Sun. Following the publication of his story, Dr Victor Mooya contacted Luti, on behalf of the District Clinical Specialist Team, and requested a meeting with him to establish what had happened.
During the meeting, Luti expressed his disappointment as he understood that his son’s life could have been saved had he been treated timeously.
Luti alleges that following the meeting neither Dr Mooya or the District Clinical Specialist Team contacted him regarding the outcomes of the investigation into his son’s death. In 2017, tired of the silence around the investigation he emailed Lucretia Moshego at the National Department of Health to obtain an update. In their email correspondence, Moshego told Luti that his complaint had been transferred to Bophello House, the seat of the Free State provincial department of health.
Luti was then contacted in 2017 by Lucy Ramongalo, the deputy director of nursing standards compliance. Ramongalo requested a meeting with Luti where they were joined by Reverend Liphoko Majoe. In email correspondence seen by The Journalist Ramongalo stated that:
“[A]n investigation and redress was done by the district clinical specialist team led by Dr Mooya who went to Dewetsdorp clinic to establish facts. The provincial complaints redress was done by myself and Reverend Majoe in 2017 where we met with you to explain your concerns, hence your complaint was justified to be closed thereafter; following our national and provincial complaints policies/guidelines”.
Ramongalo further claimed in this email, dated 11 January 2019, that Luti had expressed that he would pursue litigation.
According to the National Complaints Management Protocol of 2013, all complainants must be issued with a reference number linked to their complaint. Moreover, complainants must be issued with either a letter, a progress report or a conclusive report regarding the outcome of the investigation within a target time of 25 working-days. Should an investigation require more time, the complainant must be issued with a progress report on the investigation within the stated target-time of 25 working-days.
According to Luti, he did not receive a reference number, a letter, progress report or conclusive letter regarding the outcome of the investigation despite the fact that his son passed away more than a decade ago. He tried to request such a document from Dr Mooya via email on November 17 2018. In response to this request, Dr Mooya stated the following:
“I cannot release such documentation without the authorisation of the head of health”.
Luti claims that he has sent requests for the reports to the department of health to no avail.
During the provincial complaints redress done by Ramongalo, Luti claims that he felt he was being coerced into accepting the verdict of the department.
“They said to me, okay sir, if you are not satisfied you can pursue litigation where you may win or lose the case. She proceeded to tell me that litigation would be very expensive for me because even if I was to win the case the lawyers would subtract half of the final settlement amount for their services,” said Luti.
According to Luti, the delay in the release of the investigation report to him is characteristic of the government’s nonchalant attitude towards such a personal loss which may potentially have been avoided if Vusumuzi had received professional treatment earlier.
Emails were sent to Ramongalo and Dr Mooya with a list of questions attached regarding the allegations laid by Luti. Despite follow up emails and phone calls, no response from either party was forthcoming.