Archive | July 2013

Technology improves fight against TB

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Technology could have saved Cecilia her job and the trouble of taking the wrong medication for tuberculosis (TB) after she was misdiagnosed at a public clinic.

Cecilia, who chooses not to reveal her surname, because she has not told some family members she is on drug treatment, was infected with TB. But the Cape Town resident was diagnosed incorrectly two years ago.

“I was working at the time when I went for the TB test. When we found the results the nurse said I needed to stop working for a while. I didn’t work for about a year,” recalled Cecilia.

“I had about six months of the injection. I went to the clinic every morning. After that I just took tablets. Now I’m on my last month of treatment.

“The problem is that the clinic told me six months later that I have multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB. If I had known I had MDR I would not have to take months of the wrong medication. It would have cut down the time of treatment.”

Traditional TB testing in a local laboratory. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Traditional TB testing in a local laboratory. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

She added: “I had no energy left when I found out that I had MDR. I had to start everything all over again. For the six months the side effects were really severe.”

Cecilia is likely not a unique story as traditional TB testing – placing a sputum sample under a microscope – picks up only 50% of cases. If TB is not picked up, it takes another two to six weeks of further laboratory testing to confirm whether a person is infected.

The situation has changed for many patients though as the national health department this year started distributing a machine called GeneXpert to various public health facilities.

GeneXpert cuts TB testing from a few weeks to three hours. Patients can be tested on site and treated much faster. Instead of using a microscope, sputum is placed in a cartridge and the machine detects TB bacteria.
It employs genetic testing instead of traditional methods. It can also confirm whether someone has mutli-drug resistant TB, thus allowing for the correct treatment to be administered.

Sputum samples are viewed under a microscope in traditional TB testing. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Sputum samples are viewed under a microscope in traditional TB testing. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

National health minister Aaron Motsoaledi confirmed earlier this year that South Africa “was the very first country on this continent to unveil the GeneXpert technology”.

“We have distributed 242 GeneXpert units around the country. This constitutes 80% of all facilities we would like to cover,” said Motsoaledi.

GeneXpert is a machine that does genetic testing for TB and cuts down the waiting time for results. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

GeneXpert is a machine that does genetic testing for TB and cuts down the waiting time for results. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

This technology had been used in a limited quantity for trial run at some facilities, including in the Western Cape.

Darren Francis, spokesperson at the Western Cape health department, said the equipment had been available only in some provinces. It was now available in all nine provinces.

“This (GeneXpert) test gives a result much faster than conventional testing. The time from testing to initiation of treatment in drug resistant TB has decreased from 54 days to 9 days. There has been great success in preventing further spread of the disease,” said Francis.

Dr Kerrin Begg, a healthcare consultant with the National Pathology Group, which represents private pathology companies in the country, said early TB diagnosis was vital.

Sputum is placed inside a GeneXpert cartridge and tested for TB. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Sputum is placed inside a GeneXpert cartridge and tested for TB. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Motsoaledi said his department’s database shows “we 405,000 families in South Africa who have a member diagnosed with TB”.

He said Statistics South Africa has found that “TB was the number one killer in the country – not surprising given the synergistic relationship between TB and HIV and Aids”.

TB was also “listed as one of the top five causes of (children) under-5 mortality”.

Motsoaledi said the department had set itself an 85% cure rate for TB, up from last year’s recorded cure rate of 75,9%.

Begg said treatment for normal TB takes six months; for drug resistant TB it is 18 months. If test results are not available soon, she said, “patients get lost and don’t return to the clinic”.

“They are walking around and coughing on everybody, likely spreading TB. So it’s good for the patient if we can diagnose faster. We can cut out the six-week wait for some. The patient could be walking around and infecting others,” said Begg.

“Sometimes patients go on treatment and months later it is discovered that they have drug resistant TB. We can now also know you have resistance and you can use drugs for that immediately.”

She added: “The cost is not related only to testing. It’s also related to the individual and society. People in poorly paid jobs can be replaced and lose their income. The faster we can diagnose and treat, the faster they can get back to work.”

Dr John Douglass, chief executive of Pathcare laboratories, said the private healthcare sector has been using genetic testing equipment for a few years. They have done testing for various large companies and private doctors.

“It costs the patient and the country less. If you attack a disease as quickly as possible you stop its spread. After just two weeks of treatment, a person with TB can no longer infect someone else. TB spreads so easily, by coughing, so it could spread on a bus every day. It also spreads in households,” said Douglass.

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Tevin Campbell wants to record a song for South Africa

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

American singer Tevin Campbell loves South Africa so much he is planning to record a song especially for the country.

Campbell landed in Cape Town this week and will perform in the city on Saturday night. He performs his best hits in Johannesburg on Sunday night and heads back to California next Tuesday.

American singer Tevin Campbell in Cape Town. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

American singer Tevin Campbell in Cape Town. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

“I did not expect this response,” he said of his reception.

“I’d like to record a song especially for South Africa. I have really devoted fans in this country and it’s been 20 years,” said Campbell.

He said he felt emotional about performing his biggest hits all recorded before he took a break from making music at age 22.

“I anticipate crying during the show. That will make me sing better. We’re just gonna rock the house,” he said.

Gene Shelton who has been his publicist since the singer started his career at 12 years old was with Campbell yesterday. Shelton worked with Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and other Motown singers.

Tevin Campbell with Gene Shelton who has been his publicist since the singer was 12 years old. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Tevin Campbell with Gene Shelton who has been his publicist since the singer was 12 years old. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

He is currently a journalist professor at Kent State University in Ohio.

“I come out of the classroom for Tevin Campbell,” he said.

“We share the love of music. We are honest with each other. I’ve never had a relationship like this with any of the other artists I’ve worked with. Tevin was born in the same year as my son and I treat him like he’s my son.”

Campbell said he was currently working on a new album.

“I’m resurrecting my career and I have nothing to lose. It’s just important to tell my story my way. I’ll never stop singing,” he said.

Campbell will perform at the Grand Arena, GrandWest in Cape Town, on Saturday. He performs at Carnival City in Johannesburg on Sunday.

Public protector investigates 100 health cases in Cape Town

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Public protector Thuli Madonsela said yesterday that her office would investigate at least 100 health-related cases in the Western Cape.

Madonsela yesterday concluded a two-day public dialogue campaign to “strengthen government’s ability to deliver on United Nations Millennium Development Goals, particularly those on ending poverty and on health”.

She said while the “majority of patients were not complaining and staff were upbeat” at one healthcare facility she visited, there were concerns.

She pointed out an example of a woman who waited in vain for an ambulance to take her to a hospital to give birth.

“We have to find out why the ambulance did not come and she delivered at home,” said Madonsela.

“We also heard Grandma Smith. She was worried that sometimes when she goes to the hospital her medicine is not available or her files are missing. She went to a different hospital and then did not get spectacles that she needed. This should be resolved.”

Madonsela said her office would also investigate why drug patents were not being made available to produce generic drugs that were needed.

“We will be following up with the department of trade and industry and health department to find out what’s stalling (drug patenting). Hospitals are doing their best but they can’t afford expensive medicine,” she said.

“The health department has good intent but at execution level there are stumbling blocks. We are here to look at the blind spots.”

Madonsela’s office has taken up the country’s health concerns after “civil society asked us to investigate infant mortality at hospitals”.

It said in a statement that it wanted to investigate “maladministration and its role in causing poverty and poor health service provision”.

It added: “It was informed by complaints her office has received on the current state of affairs in health facilities such as hospitals and clinics. There have also been sporadic complaints from health caregivers such as doctors.”

“The critical areas under the microscope are infant mortality, management of healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics, quality of care, resources, procurement, working conditions of staff and other general health issues,” it said.

Madonsela yesterday concluded her two-day trip in the City of Cape Town’s local government chamber with a public hearing session.

On Tuesday, she visited the Paarl Hospital and Phola Park Clinic in Mbekweni. Her office said she had after that visit “asked Western Cape health officials to investigate allegations of racism and ill-treatment of patients by health care professionals” at these facilities.

It said: “During the visit to Phola Park clinic, isiXhosa-speaking patients complained about a communication breakdown between themselves and medical staff at the clinic due to the fact that they neither speak English nor Afrikaans. Some added that medical staff had been rude towards them.”

Madonsela meanwhile has to face Parliament next week about various allegations regarding her office’s workings. This includes an allegation that her office in Kimberley took bribes from the Democratic Alliance.

“There’s no merit to the allegations. I’ve indicated to that I’ll appear (in Parliament),” said Madonsela.

Cape Town city’s R5,78-billion expenditure a “blatant lie”

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Mayor Patricia de Lille’s claim yesterday that the city has spent 92,9% of its budget to mostly help Cape Town’s poor was a “blatant lie”, charged the ANC yesterday.

De Lille said the city under her leadership had achieved its biggest spend in history, totaling R5,78-billion. Its total budget is R6,22-billion.

This expenditure is R1,54-billion more than the previous year. It takes into account the municipal budget spent from June 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013.

“I had to shout and scream but it was to the benefit of everyone. It worked… With your children, you give them hidings often enough and at the end of the year you see results,” said De Lille.

But Xolani Sotashe, the ANC’s chief whip in the city legislature, said De Lille they would “demonstrate how the city has failed in terms of spending its budget”.

“It’s a blatant lie. The mayor is trying hard to impress the public on the city’s ability to spend the budget. I can tell you without doubt the city will never spend 92,9%. We will give the media a true reflection of what’s going on,” said Sotashe.

“The city is distorting the reality. This is factually incorrect. Not so long ago the city was just above 50% of spending its budget. How can you jump from 54% in April to 92,7% now? It’s totally misleading.”

He said De Lille needed to look at “actual figures that have been spent and not commitments. Approving tenders and delivering services is a different story”.

De Lille said she had worked hard though to speed up the tender process at the city. She said one tender cycle was 139 days and this could create bottlenecks in service delivery.

“We looked at our tender plan. I made sure that each month tenders had been submitted to supply so processes can begin,” she said.

“There was a lack of project management at the city. Even mayoral committee members have gone for (management) training.”

And while De Lille said she spent the money on a pro-poor plan, Sotashe said this was also incorrect.

De Lille said the city’s “pro-poor spend stands at 64%… which is spent on direct service provision to poor households combined with substantive rates rebates, a comprehensive free basket of services”.

Sotashe retorted: “Poor people are not benefitting from this budget. White liberals are still enjoying their privileges at the expense of the poor.”

“You have social democrats controlling politics but the liberals control the budget. De Lille controls the politics but (deputy mayor Ian) Neilson controls the budget. De Lille won’t be able to deliver because Neilson will make sure he delivers the budget to the white minority.”

He added: “The DA controls sub-council 16 and that includes Sea Point and other affluent areas. If you combine the budget spent on all ANC controlled sub-councils you won’t even reach the amount being spent on sub-council 16.

“A huge chunk of the budget is going to affluent areas. We have the proof. We will demonstrate that.”
De Lille, yesterday joined by Neilson and city manager Achmat Ebrahim, said their “achievements show the city’s unprecedented successful financial performance for the past financial year which has resulted in higher levels of service delivery across Cape Town”.

The Facts: Where did the money go?
· Roads and Transport: R2,5 billion
· Utilities: R2 billion
· Human Settlements: R570 million
· Repairs and maintenance record spend of R2,6 billion
· Record purchase orders of R11,8 billion

Major capital projects include:

Health facilities in Eerste River R1 681 703
Extensions for anti-retroviral treatment services at Luvuyo Clinic R2 775 196
Building the Imizamo Yethu sports complex R2 689 698
A range of housing projects including Happy Valley Phase 2 R33 460 000
The replacement emergency response vehicles, including fire engines R20 829 4098
Upgrading and expanding the electricity network R1,23 billion

Protesters: Townships are jails for the poor

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

After 28 days in prison, two Cape Town men leading a protest campaign for flush toilets in townships are willing to be jailed again.

Andile Lili and Loyiso Nkohla are the leaders of what has been dubbed ‘poo protests’.

Loyiso Nkohla (left) and Andile Lili (right). Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Loyiso Nkohla (left) and Andile Lili (right). Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Between April and June, they have led seven protests which involves dumping human faeces on Western Cape government buildings and the cars of officials. This was in response to government contractors not cleaning public toilets in townships.

The two men were arrested with five others after dumping human waste at Cape Town airport on June 25. They were released on bail last Friday.

This week they were adamant that arrest was “immaterial”. Their bail conditions prohibit them from any protests until their court case has been finalized.

Lili, a father of three children younger than ten, said “we are not worried about arrest”.

“We must be worried about our children who are at risk of being ill. We want to protect them,” he said.

Nkohla added: “We will continue to fight. It’s immaterial for us to be arrested… We have not yet achieved anything. We will be satisfied when we have flush toilets.”

Lili said their plan was that “protests must continue”.

“People must continue to pour faeces on the (provincial) legislature, the airport and everywhere else. We have support from people in all townships,” he said.

“They told us they would not stop until they get better services. They don’t want to see a city of Cape Town (government) car in the township. They will burn it. We can’t stop them from that. We are also angry.”

Both men agreed that in Goodwood and Pollsmoor prisons where they were jailed over the last 28 days had better toilet facilities. Townships were prisons for the poor, they said.

Nkohla said: “In prison you have privacy when you relieve yourself.”

Lili added: “In townships we had to relieve ourselves in full view of the public. The situation is better in prison. There are flush toilets in jail.

“People in townships are living in jail. The prison conditions are even healthier than in townships.”

Lili also distanced their protest from the ANC, which has publically distanced itself from their actions but not their cause.

Lili is an executive member of the ANC’s Dullah Omar region. It is the largest and most influential ANC branch in the Western Cape. Nkohla is an ANC ward councillor in Khayelitsha.

Lili said they had “not been sent by the ANC” to protest.

“This is our fight. This is not an ANC protest. That means the ANC can’t even tell us how to protest. We don’t expect anyone to tell us how we should protest.

People who say we need another form of protest live in beautiful houses,” he said.

“This is not about the Democratic Alliance (ruling party in the Western Cape). People must show their anger against portable flush toilets even in other (ANC-led) provinces.”

Cape Town-based law firm Xulu Liversage is representing various accused protesters in two separate court matters.

Lawyer Barnabas Xulu said they would argue that “this is not a criminal matter, but a human rights issue”.
“It is well known that the city is not providing these services. What is their problem? Is it because these are disenfranchised black people in a township?” asked Xulu.

Lili said they planned to “march to the NPA to have all our charges dropped. We are being victimised.”

Lili, Nkhola and five others are due back at the Bellville Magistrate’s Court on August 5.

On August 2, others arrested on a train headed to central Cape Town, will appear at the Cape Town Magistrate’s court. They were arrested while carrying human waste, on their way to another ‘poo protest’.

Rights group cautions artists against child porn

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cape Town-based child rights group Molo Songololo has cautioned artists to adhere to child porn laws after a film allegedly depicting such scenes was banned.

Its director Patric Solomons said this week that while he has not seen the film Of Good Report, the non-profit wanted artists to “support efforts to prevent abuse and violence against children”.

Of Good Report was this month banned by the Film and Publications Board for allegedly depicting child pornography.

Its director Jahmil XT Qubeka was angry last Thursday when his film, meant to open the 34th Durban International Film Festival, could not be screened.

A warning about the publication board’s decision was instead shown on the big screen.

“This film has been refused classification by the Film and Publication Board, in terms of the Film and Publications Act of 1996, unfortunately we may not legally screen the film, Of Good Report, as doing so would constitute a criminal offence,” it read.

Solomons said local laws “regarding child pornography is extensive and makes it illegal to produce, distribute and process child pornography in any form”.

“Filmmakers, artists, social scientists all have to adhere to these very strict conditions as any representation, real or simulated, of a child in a sexual way can be an offence,” he said.

“The film and publications board must consider the rights of the child to be protected and if it found that the film have over-stepped the boundary it should not be suitable for public viewing and distribution.”

Solomons added: “Filmmakers have a responsibility to adhere to and respect the child legal framework and must also consider the context in which they represent children… unnecessary representation of violence against children and violence in general should be avoided.”

Qubeka’s film tells the “sombre tale of a small-town high-school teacher with a penchant for young girls”, informs the synopsis.

“The result is a hypnotically engaging journey into the soul of a mentally troubled man. The trouble for the protagonist, Parker Sithole begins when he meets the undeniably gorgeous Nolitha Ngubane at a local tavern.

“Captivated by her beauty, an illicit affair ensues. However, there’s just one problem: Nolitha is one of Parker’s pupils and is just sixteen years older. Parker quickly spirals into lethal obsession.”

Durban’s film festival director Peter Machen said the film and publication board told them the “film contains a scene which constitutes child pornography and we are unable to legally show the film”.

I am very sorry about this. Out of respect for the director of the film, we will not be showing an alternative film tonight.”

He added: “It (the film) presents a story of a very real and troubling social problem of rampant abuse of position in our country.”

It has been reported that Qubeka intends to appeal against the decision, failing which, the film’s producer and lawyer Mike Auret would take it to the Constitutional Court.

Auret said: “It is not the function of state to moralise.”

Ramadaan: seeking spiritual heights

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

It has been almost two weeks since Cape Town’s Muslim community embarked on the ninth Islamic month of fasting, called Ramadaan.

My Inbox has been flooded with e-mail reminders about striving to be a better person during Ramadaan.

Every day, a friend sends out sayings of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad to motivate the rest of us to remain steadfast on this path. This is a month when Muslims worldwide are meant to make physical sacrifices to reach spiritual heights.

Truth be told, it’s not always easy to stay away from food and drink from just before sunrise until sunset. There are moments during the day when vertigo hits me. Light-headedness prevails and one just wants to close your eyes until the headache goes away.

Ramadaan is the month of the Qur'an, Islam's holy text. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ramadaan is the month of the Qur’an, Islam’s holy text. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

These are aspects of Ramadaan that my non-Muslim friends don’t understand. “Why can’t you at least drink some water?” they ask.

It is sometimes difficult to explain to them the desire one has to fast because of your belief in God. Fasting is not only about steering clear of food though.

The month requires stamina on a physical level, but Muslims are also required to improve their character. That’s a much bigger task than not eating.

So while one should not eat or drink, any ‘negative’ behaviour should also be avoided. One should train your eyes, ears and limbs to stay away from gossip, lying, or other undesirable activities.

Some Muslims don’t even listen to music during Ramadaan because the song lyrics are seen as deviating from spiritual growth. Others watch less TV.

The Muslim community generally goes on a collective search for God during Ramadaan. They want to attain closeness to their creator. They do this via extra night prayers – known as taraweeh – at mosques.

Another essential aspect of Ramadaan is reciting the Qur’an. The latter is believed by Muslims to be the words of God sent down to earth. This book contains teachings on how to govern one’s affairs and attain spirituality.

The Qur’an, according to Islamic teachings, was first revealed to mankind in Ramadaan. This is thus referred to as the month of the Qur’an.

A Sudanese young man reads the Qur'an written on wood, as is traditional in that country. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

A Sudanese young man reads the Qur’an written on wood, as is traditional in that country. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

One saying of Prophet Muhammad informs the Qur’an accompanies the deceased into the afterlife if they have recited it regularly.

I’ve been fortunate to experience Ramadaan in different cities in South Africa and also in other countries. At home, I’ve become acquainted with Ramadaan in Johannesburg when I used to live there and also in Grahamstown when studying at Rhodes University.

Being away from home during Ramadaan is not always ideal for most Muslims as this is a month when many want to be with their families. But it is also a time to learn about other Muslim communities.

I once fasted for a whole month in Sudan while doing work with an aid agency based in Khartoum. Being surrounded by poverty a lot of the time drove home the message of Ramadaan, that it is a time when we should have compassion for the poor and needy. That’s why we fast, so that we can feel the hunger pains of those who are less fortunate than us.

In Paris, I was able to see what Ramadaan is like for immigrants as most of the Muslims there were from so many other countries in Africa and the Arab world. It was a humbling experience to end my day of fasting with other foreigners at the Grand Mosque in Paris.

And in Turkey there was a jovial atmosphere outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul at the end of each day of fasting. Families packed picnics and gathered on the lawns around the mosque. Vendors sold food, watermelon, cold drinks and toys for children. Each day was like going to a mini festival.

Iiftar, or breaking the fast, at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Iiftar, or breaking the fast, at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Back home in Cape Town, families send cakes to their neighbours to make sure that all in the area have food on their table at the end of another long day of fasting.

We have another three weeks to go before the Eid-ul-Fitr festival that marks the end of Ramadaan. For now, we’re up well before the sun to ensure we grab a bite before another day of sacrifice.