South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla has said the death of at least four patients can be “attributed directly” to an ongoing nationwide strike action by health workers.
He has warned that this number may grow, as his team continues to assess clinical reports and visit affected health centres.
Strike action by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) from last week saw the shutdown of some hospitals, with workers being violently barred from entering and patients in need of care being turned away.
The army has now been deployed to key hospital entrance points to stop the intimidation of workers and to ensure hospitals can remain operational.
Nehawu has, however, refuted claims that patient deaths can be blamed on their strike action.
The union’s general secretary, Zola Sephetha, told local TV station eNCA that the strike “has never killed anyone, and the government is accountable for whatever happens at the hospitals”.
Public service workers – including medical personnel – have vowed to intensify their strike as it enters its second week.
They have rejected the government’s 4.7% wage hike offer, demanding 10% instead.
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