The North West Health Department has placed respected specialist Professor Ebrahim Variava on precautionary suspension, it confirmed on Wednesday.
Proponents of Variava said on Tuesday that he had been suspended without warning from his post as the specialist for internal medicine at the Klerksdorp-Tshepong Hospital Complex.
North West Health MEC Madoda Sambatha said he had suspended Variava because of ‘serious allegations’ leveled against him, including that the professor had:
Acted against current Covid-19 guidelines, compromised the limited number of test kits, and acted in a manner suspicious of unapproved research.
Requested computers from NGOs and instructing that they be installed in the wards without any approval.
Been obstructive to the management of the hospital in all meetings planned to prepare for Covid-19.
Failed to act as part of management through a tendency to write emails to stakeholders including external ones such as media, Section 27, and different national government departments without any effort to engage internal problems solving mechanisms or allowing management time to resolve issues.
Sambatha said Variava’s actions had ‘threatened labour peace’.
“The implications of his alleged unprofessional conduct is such that as result of Prof Variava allegedly testing 4 nurses and 36 patients without reasonable grounds, labour unions demanded explanations of the policy on testing, wanting to know why all nurses are not tested,” he said.
Professor Neil Martinson, the Chief Executive Director at the Perinatal Research Unit at the University of Witwatersrand, said Variava was suspended without warning from the hospital after 20 years of dedicated service.
“This action shocked his clinical, teaching and research colleagues. His suspension comes at a time of National Disaster when medical professionals, particularly those expert in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with severe medical illness are most required.
“Over his time at the hospital Prof Variava has built a superb academic department in an underserved province that trains medical students and specialists and also conducts cutting edge research into HIV and TB,” said Martinson.
Sambatha said although the spread of the virus was now on the rise in the province and they needed all health workers, he said health workers needed to conduct themselves in a professional manner.
“Where there is ill-discipline the department will take action either through punitive suspension, precautionary suspension or dismissal depending on the nature of the offense and in terms of applicable Labour Laws,” he said in a statement.
He said Variava had been placed on precautionary suspension pending an internal investigation.
Martinson said they felt the charges that were filed against Variava did not bear any relation to the medical specialist.
“Firstly, as a medical specialist, he prioritizes excellent patient care as his most important concern.
“His dedication has contributed to his peripheral hospital becoming a centre of clinical training and research excellence and an integral part of the University of the Witwatersrand.
“Prof Variava is a medical activist and speaks out for sick people. He has raised concerns to the leadership of the North West Department of Health about repeated and lengthy drug stock-outs, particularly of frequently used antibiotics for common infections, and medications required for patients in ICU,” he said.
Martinson said Variava was an internationally recognized scholar who had published almost ninety articles in peer-reviewed international journals and had conducted multiple studies on the treatment and epidemiology of HIV, TB, and drug-resistant TB.
Martinson said he was concerned that most Covid-19 patients in the North West were admitted to his department.
“It is extremely worrying that at the precise time when the epidemic is rapidly rising, the leader of this department is suspended. The best interests of patients and the hospital, and its community are clearly not served by the suspension of Professor Variava.
“We call on the Department of Health to withdraw his suspension and urgently consider dialogue to resolve their differences,” said Martinson.
Sambatha said Variava’s track record was valuable, but he said the department had taken the decision to suspend him based on the allegations levelled against him.
“Once the investigation against him is concluded he will go through a disciplinary hearing where he will also be afforded the opportunity to defend himself.
“Prof. Variava’s contribution to the NWDoH is appreciated. However, it is incumbent on an organization that is striving to instill fairness, discipline, and labour stability to investigate the above allegations,” said the MEC.
He said an independent body would be appointed to handle the disciplinary process.
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