Ethics still a challenge in healthcare, says scholar

25 September 2012 | Story by Newsroom

Prof Yosuf VeriavaAluta continua: Prof Yosuf Veriava delivered the first Frances Ames Memorial Lecture.

A number of concerns about the role of medical practitioners emerged from the historical process surrounding the death of black consciousness icon Steve Biko, said Professor Yosuf Veriava.

Veriava was delivering the inaugural Frances Ames Memorial Lecture, titled Frances Ames and the Biko Doctors: Responsibilities of medical practitioners, hosted by the Department of Medicine recently.

The Frances Ames lecture, said Professor Marian Jacobs, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, was one way of looking back on the dark side of healthcare in South Africa, and remembering the contributions made to advancing health and human rights.

As part of its centenary celebrations this year, the faculty renamed its conference room 4 as the Frances Ames Room in honour of Ames.

Ames was one of UCT's most distinguished and loved professors before her death in 2002. She led a team of six doctors, including Veriava, who challenged the medical establishment and the apartheid government over Biko's death on 12 September 1977.

Veriava said the Biko case had highlighted shortcomings in the parameters of the doctor-patient relationship; the advocacy role of doctors, including that in relation to disempowered patients; the statutory responsibility of the Health Professions Council of South Africa; and the role of the organised medical profession.

"What have we learnt from those events?" Veriava asked. "Have the circumstances changed in our hospitals? Are the patients treated the way they should be treated? Is the professional relationship between us and the patients optimal? Are we still subordinating the interests of our patients to those individuals who control the healthcare system, often not in the best interests of the patients?"

The country is far from what Biko was fighting for, Veriava noted. "The Marikana disaster reflects on where and how far we still have to go."

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