15 August 2017

South Africa: 'She Made a Joke Out of My Friend's Death'

Drug users face discrimination when they seek medical attention. They have to lie to get help in emergency situations.

"Are you sure this ou is dead? Maybe he's sleeping?", says a police woman as she kicks him like a dog. She made a joke out of my friend's death. Mark wanted to live. He had been lying there since one a.m. We called the ambulance at the time and they only arrived at 10 a.m. They refused to take his body until the police came after midday. His body laid there in the CBD, where everybody walked past. He was just 32 years old.

The paramedics don't care about us. When we call them for help, we have learned it's best to lie. We don't mention anything about overdosing and needles, but we place a needle next to the person so they can see what caused the person to fall unconscious. If we mention that the person has overdosed they won't come, they won't help us, especially if you are black.

When we see that one of us has overdosed, we try our best to resuscitate him. We see him turn blue, fall into a deep sleep and struggle to breathe, then we know that this ou is in serious trouble. We call the ambulance and we stay with him until they arrive.

Most drugs users have a pauper's burial. On very rare occasions the family buries them. You can lie in a state morgue from anything between three months to three years. Your family doesn't know that you are dead. You just lie in that morgue as an unknown.

I have lived in the streets for almost 10 years. I have lost many friends. I stopped counting years ago. I can't even remember some of their names anymore. - Marko (42), as told to Nelisiwe Msomi

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