Motsoaledi: No SA ebola threat

NOTE: Article first appeared on The Citizen website on October 9, 2014. 

Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi said he is tired of the unnecessary “media frenzy” around the possible outbreak of Ebola in the country.

Motsoaledi was speaking in Kempton Park, after a meeting with various stakeholders, who will be sending aid to West African countries affected by the deadly virus.

So far all 14 people who have been tested for the virus have been negative. “We were testing them to settle nerves,” said Motsoaledi. He added that too much panic was being created in the media every time someone with a fever or bleeding was admitted to hospital.

Professor Janusz Paweska, who has been part of a team deployed to assist medically in West Africa, explained why South Africa is not a high risk area at the moment.

“There is no habit of eating pets (birds, bats etc) in South Africa.”

He said the extreme hunger in some of the affected countries forced people to hunt bats and other wildlife just to survive.

“People are hungry out there”.

Respect initiation – without loss of life

NOTE: Article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper June 14, 2014. 

The traditional initiation season started yesterday and many young boys are heading to initiation schools countrywide to take part in this cultural rite of passage during their winter holiday.

In an effort to curb the deaths that result from circumcisions done at some of these schools, R180 million has been set aside by the Department of Health to assist initiation schools. Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said every province will be given R20 million. This money can be used to hire help or buy necessary aids at initiation schools.

Some of the problem areas identified include the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, where some illegal schools are in operation. Motsoaledi said the problem in the Eastern Cape was “complex” because people are allowed to open up initiation schools without the consent of their traditional leader. This is why parents need to ensure the school they take their child to is legal – and report illegal schools.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi addresses a joint media briefing held in Pretoria on the initiation cultural practices. (Photo: GCIS)
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi addresses a joint media briefing held in Pretoria on the initiation cultural practices. (Photo: GCIS)

“We can’t let these thugs kill our children,” said Motsoaledi.

Obed Bapela, deputy minister of traditional affairs said a “zero tolerance” stance would be taken on “bogus operators” of illegal initiation schools. “The loss of life that occurred over the years prompted government and the traditional leadership to embark on a drive to restore the integrity and dignity of the practice.”

Bapela gave an example of the 32 deaths last year in Mpumalanga, saying the Hawks were investigating the matter.

Motsoaledi said while some traditional leaders may be resistant to help, they need to understand that “things have changed”. Diseases such as diabetes have become more prevalent and require initiation schools to take more precautions.

The money provided is part of R385 million set aside by the department for the medical male circumcision programme, which will provide free circumcisions. The department will provide further support through assisting with health screening, providing medicines and technical help. Motsoaledi said health screening was vital in preventing deaths. “We need to pick up prior medical conditions” to avoid the inevitable.

BMI not a one size fits all calculation

by Pheladi Sethusa and Nqobile Dludla

Body Mass Index (BMI) drive by RoyalMnandi was launched on Monday in an effort to raise awareness among students.

BMI drive 

“BMI is basically the ratio that you use, if you’re a certain height you should ideally be a certain weight,” said dietician Neroshnee Govender.

“We weigh their weight and measure their height, we take that down and use a calculation method and then we let them know whether they are within the normal range for their height or whether they are overweight, obese or underweight,” she said.

The testing left Witsie Sannie Baloyi smiling at the paper holding his results.

BMI Drive: Karin vander Walt, senior catering manager calculating student’s BMI to make them aware of the health implications of the food they eat. Photo: Nqobile Dludla
BMI Drive: Karin vander Walt, senior catering manager calculating student’s BMI to make them aware of the health implications of the food they eat. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

He said learning a BMI could be “traumatic”. Though Baloyi was happy with his results he said would still try to improve his lifestyle.

“It’s [BMI] somewhere along the lines of being accurate but it traumatizes people. Now I’m going to try eating healthy food and I’m going to start exercising.”

Royal Mnandi liason officer Bontle Mogapi said the health awareness drive was put in place to provide students with information and the means to lead healthier lifestyles.

While students were queuing, waiting to be measured and weighed, Zazele Mabaso expressed a different opinion as he dodged the weigh-in.

“It’s a waste of time really. What do I gain from knowing my BMI?” Mabaso asked.

Is it useful?

The calculation of BMI is contentious and there are different views of its validity. The intentions of the calculation, to correct unhealthy lifestyles is not in question but the methods of the calculation are in dispute.

For example, a rugby player who weighs 100 kilograms and measures 1.8 metres tall has a BMI score of 30.9, which would fall on the obese side of the BMI scale.

The calculation fails to factor in muscle weight, which is much heavier than fat, so people who are fit and muscular are not catered for in the calculation. “The body mass index becomes worthless when it is used on a general population,” said sport science lecturer Marc Booysen.

He suggested making use of other measurements like hip to waist ratio, in conjunction with a body fat caliber to measure such a diverse population.

He added that BMI “doesn’t look deeper” because it doesn’t give an accurate reading of muscle mass and body fat. Given the example of the “obese” rugby player, he said it would be more accurate to measure body fat in that situation with caliphers.

In a case where the population group being measured is fairly similar, like a soccer or rugby team, the BMI could then be useful because those people have a fairly homogenous BMI score said Booysen.

Best reads

Last week saw us delivering another 12 pager, how we did is beyond me, but anyway here goes:

How much for a dozen?

CHEATED: Khanyi Ntsenge spoke candidly about her experience. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
CHEATED: Khanyi Ntsenge spoke candidly about her experience. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

From being on the pill for a month, to injecting herself every day, twice a day for two weeks, to having one simple operation that she couldn’t even recall, one Witsie has given the gift of life to a couple.

The money

Young women can make up to R6 000 by giving their eggs to couples who cannot produce on their own, said Colleen Oates from Baby Miracles.

“Some couples pay the clinic up to R60 000 for treatments and they have a 55% success rate,” said Oates. Clinics make 90% more than the girls donating their eggs. “We have a set fee of R6 000, but I feel it needs to go up a bit,” said Oates. She said people commit themselves and make others’ dreams come true, which should count for something.

The Injections

Girls who donate have to inject hormones that make their eggs larger, which can and often does change their hormones before and after treatment. Some feel bloated, sluggish and get enlarged breasts as side effects, like Witsie Khanyi Ntsenge.

Ntsenge, a 22-year-old honours student in demography, said the money was never a motivating factor for her to donate. She just knew she had nothing to lose. “After the operation I ate and signed an indemnity form to get my R6 000. But I hardly remember that because I was so drugged up,” said Ntsenge.

Dr Trudy Smith, a gynaecologist at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, said the consequences of donating don’t really make sense to her. “You are on drugs that make you fat and moody,” said Smith.

She said donations made should not be motivated by money but rather out of genuine care for helping a childless person, preferably one you are close to. Ntsenge said she wouldn’t have donated if she hadn’t passed the psychological test that checks if you are able to deal with donating your eggs.

No satisfaction

Ntsenge did however feel “cheated” when the process ended in no more than 30 minutes. “You don’t get to see the fruits of your labour – it’s horrible,” said Ntsenge. She said she was shocked by how quickly things came to end once her eggs were harvested. She said if you wanted to be a martyr for donating, you would be left disappointed.

Ntsenge met a woman who was there to receive an egg on the day Ntsenge donated.

Hearing the woman’s story helped lessen Ntsenge’s anti-climatic feelings. But she still stressed that “logic is not the same as emotions” so it took time to accept what had happened. Oates said women who donate are not taking any eggs away from their “store”. The hormones they inject only help women to produce more eggs than they normally would.

“It wouldn’t be legal if we were making people infertile,” said Oates. Oates said that to be eligible to donate girls need to be between the ages of 21 and 32. She said 21 years of age is old enough to make such a decision and 32 is the cut-off age because “the quality of eggs deteriorate when women reach about 35 years of age”.

A healthy dose of reality

Fifth year Wits medical students have learnt some harsh lessons about the conditions at public hospitals this year, after doing their practicals at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.


“The shortage of resources and supplies is a real concern for me,” said Massillon Phasha. Doctors had to improvise and work with whatever was available, she said, because they did not have the necessary equipment and medicine. This meant patients did not get the best treatment possible.

“The lab tests one can request are limited and results for specimens sent for pathology assessment take a long time to get back. All these factors largely influence the management of the patients.

Concerns voiced

“I have voiced my concerns to the doctors, but unfortunately there is not much that they can do about it because this is largely due to shortage of funds. So unless we can get the government to give the hospitals more money, there is almost nothing we can do,” said Pasha.

Keabetsoe Phello said she had never voiced her concerns as she was too scared.

Daily activities

Medical students go to the academic hospital as part of their fifth year studies, but do not manage patients.

“We help where we can under supervision from a doctor, but our duty in the hospital is to learn,” said Pasha.

On a typical day the students do everything from being tutored by doctors on specific subjects to running basic diagnostic tests, and they could even assist in delivering a baby, depending what rounds they are doing that day.

Despite the poor conditions, students appreciate the learning experience. Pasha said she was grateful to be at Charlotte Maxeke because she was able to learn a lot. She said she believed the doctors were doing their best despite the difficult working conditions.

Phello said she loved being part of a team and getting a “sneak peak as to what life after med school entails”.

All hospitals had problems when it came to resources and facilities, she said. But despite these, and the fact that medical students work hard, with no pay, she still loved her job.

“I could never imagine myself doing anything else. In some cases we do almost the same amount of work as the interns, yet we do not get paid. And some other medical disciplines, pharmacy and nurses to name a few, get paid a wage for working.”

The students will be stationed at the hospital until November 2014.