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Literacy is a luxury that many of us take for granted. That is why SADAG created SPEAKING BOOKS and revolutionized the way healthcare information is delivered to low literacy communities.

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"I have mentally ill people with HIV and I cannot offer them any psychiatric drugs, and now I cannot even offer antiretrovirals. We are constantly in crisis mode," said Dr Greg Jonsson, head of the HIV psychiatric programme. File photo
Image by: Katherine Muick © Sunday Times.

Patients at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital have been sent home without their medication because of a shortage of essential medicines.

Several sources at the hospital said there were no anti-depressants , no fixed-dose combination antiretrovirals, only one anti-psychotic and many more shortages of essential medicines.

"I have mentally ill people with HIV and I cannot offer them any psychiatric drugs, and now I cannot even offer antiretrovirals. We are constantly in crisis mode," said Dr Greg Jonsson, head of the HIV psychiatric programme.

One of his colleagues, Dr Joanna Taylor, said: "Medication shortages can mean relapses for patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression - relapses that cause neurological damage and huge setbacks in their lives which can be so terrifying that they cause people to commit suicide.

"We had one patient whose clinic ran out of Risperidone, which kept him stable for years. His auditory hallucinations returned and instructed him to jump under a train. He did so and lost both of his legs."

Baragwanath is one of several hospitals and clinics hit by shortages of life-saving medicines and the situation is getting worse, the Stop Stock Outs Project reported yesterday.

"Over the last 30 days, 53 different medications in the province have been reported out of stock at facilities in Gauteng. Only five of those cases have been resolved. There are still 47 medications that range from treating HIV and TB to mental health, maternal health and more out of stock," project manager Bella Hwang said.

Baragwanath Hospital referred queries to the Gauteng health department, which did not respond yesterday. But Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has stated stock will be built up by Wednesday.

Jack Bloom, DA spokesman for health in Gauteng, said: "Doctors are tearing out their hair in frustration. This crisis is all over the place and short stock is also happening at Charlotte Maxeke and Helen Joseph [hospitals]."

"Gauteng has 10000 medicine items out of stock. The availability of essential drugs is down to 77% and essential drugs are what they say, essential. This is tragic and affecting thousands of patients."

Non-emergency operations have been cancelled because of shortages of anaesthetics and antibiotics.

Bloom said delays with the national medicines tender have harmed Gauteng's supply chain.

Zane Wilson, founder of the SA Depression and Anxiety Group, said: "Patients can deteriorate within days. Additional costs, of time off work or getting taxis back to the hospital can be prohibitive."

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