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Pretoria – The Department of Health has been called discriminatory for refusing to offer community service opportunities to students studying to become oral hygienists and dental therapists.
This was expressed by students from the Sefako Makgatho University of Health Services, who delivered a memorandum to the offices of Minister Joe Phaahla.
Singing and displaying signs, the students said the department’s behavior left them desperate and sought opportunities to do their community service in the private sector where they were exploited, treated poorly and sometimes working without a formal employment contract.
School of Oral Health student leader Phuluso Semata said it was officially established that the post moratorium was enforced around 1994 by the new exemption.
“The government stopped paying students from their first year to their last year, and subsequently froze all community service positions indefinitely.
“No reasonable and justifiable written explanation was given for this decision, which harmed future hygienists and therapists.
“Everyone in South Africa has the right to have access to health services. The Ministry of Health, as an organ of the state, is responsible for taking reasonable measures with its available means to ensure access to primary oral health care.
“The continued refusal of the Department of Health to provide community services for the above professions is a direct denial of the right of everyone in the republic to have access to cardiac care services,” said Semata.
The students demanded that the department urgently meet with all relevant healthcare stakeholders and affected students to ensure that every oral health practitioner – not just dentists – has the right to equal protection and advantages before the law.
They said the department should stop discriminating against students in health services based on their qualifications and explain why they have dentists in higher positions to run their affairs when they have oral hygienists and therapists. Highly qualified and influential dental professionals who are eligible for appointment at a leadership level.
“We have a lot of other grievances and that’s why we also want the department to explain the appalling disparity in remuneration between therapists, oral hygienists and dentists who are all professionals with clean teeth.
“We also want the department to encourage relevant higher education institutions to fulfill their mandate to train more oral hygienists and dental therapists. “
The head of health sector negotiation and stakeholder engagement in the department, lawyer Miale Ngake, accepted the memorandum.
He promised to hand it over to the minister and ensure that efforts are made for a response within 10 working days as stipulated by the students.