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MEC defended in helicopter row

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By Sharika Regchand

Durban - The emergency helicopter used by the KwaZulu-Natal health MEC when it was needed for a dying boy was not the only one available, the head of the province’s Health Department Sibongile Zungu, has said.

Zungu said that another helicopter had been sent from Richards Bay to the accident near Pinetown on November 3, that wiped out a family of four. He said aircraft had been turned back when the pilot was told that Asheen Maharaj, 15, the only survivor, had been taken to hospital by ambulance.

The teenager subsequently died from head injuries on Tuesday.

The MEC, S’bongiseni Dhlomo, has been criticised because the helicopter he was using might have been able to get the boy to hospital more quickly.

On Wednesday, Zungu said that the MEC had been using the helicopter to get to a place in Umkhanyakude, the northernmost district of KZN, where the community was threatening to attack doctors. She said the department had started to use the aircraft for administrative flights in 1999. This also involved flying doctors to certain areas. “We are all allowed to use the aircraft provided it is booked beforehand. If an emergency arises it can be diverted,” she said.

Ntateko Sithole, general manager for emergency rescue services, said that factors limiting the helicopter’s use bad weather and an unsuitable place to land. “The MEC has encouraged all of us to register with the Health Professions Council of SA, so that when we are rerouted we can render treatment,” he said

. - The Mercury

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