Today, Lawyers for Human Rights approached the Johannesburg High Court to hear the matter of Alem Bazabe Ereselo v the CEO: Helen Joseph Hospital and Others, which concerns an asylum seeker’s Constitutional right to access emergency medical treatment, equality, human dignity, and life.

After fleeing Ethiopia due to persecution on the basis of her political opinion, the Applicant in this matter arrived in South Africa in 2010 seeking asylum.  Having been in South Africa for more than 9 years, the Applicant is still waiting for her application for asylum to be determined by the Department of Home Affairs.

In January 2019, the Applicant was admitted to Helen Jospeh Hospital for kidney failure and was placed on triweekly acute hemodialysis treatment for approximately five hours at a time.  On 24 April 2019, she was given notice that her treatment would be terminated on 1 May 2019.  The reason she was given for the termination of her treatment is that “you are not a South African citizen and you do not possess verified documents pertaining to refugee status or permanent citizenship awarded.”

Doctors at Helen Joseph Hospital have confirmed both to the Applicant and Lawyers for Human Rights that if the Applicant’s treatment is discontinued, she will die. 

Through discussions with Helen Joseph Hospital, it appears that the reason for terminating the Applicant’s hemodialysis treatment is because of a policy of the National Department of Health.  Pursuant to this policy, it appears that the only reason for the termination of the Applicant’s treatment is her immigration status, as an asylum seeker.  Had she possessed a verified refugee status or permanent residence or South African citizenship, she would continue receiving treatment.  In other words, it is only a policy that stands between the Applicant and life-saving treatment. 

The matter was postponed until later this month on agreement that the Applicant would continue to receive hemodialysis treatment until the finalisation of the matter, starting today.

LHR will argue that the policy, which prevents an asylum-seeker from continuing to receive chronic renal treatment, is unconstitutional.  This argument will include submissions concerning patients who are asylum seekers who have fled persecution in their country of origin and for that very reason cannot return to their country because they would be in danger of further harm or persecution. An asylum seeker cannot legally return to her country of origin to receive medical treatment, because doing so would cause her to lose his/her asylum seeker status in South Africa.