At least 1,600 tuberculosis patients in South Africa's Eastern Cape got a reprieve for their lifesaving treatment when the Southern African National Tuberculosis Association (SANTA) received a multi-million rand government subsidy on Wednesday.
This followed three months of uncertainty as payment was delayed over what the government described as a "technical" problem.
At an emergency meeting on Tuesday it looked as though the 1,600 chronic cases referred to the voluntary organisation by over-stretched provincial hospitals would be discharged, said Neil Cooper, SANTA provincial chairman.
"Most patients are very sick and half have HIV/AIDS. We take the load off normal hospitals who refer chronic patients to us. We didn't know which way to turn," Cooper said.
Anne Terblanche manager of the Jose Pearson Hospital in Port Elizabeth which specialises in treating drug resistant TB said: "We would have had to send highly infectious people back into the community."
The subsidy finally came through on Wednesday. "It was a huge weight off our shoulders," said Cooper.
Provincial health department spokesman Mahlubandile Mageda said an internal investigation would be conducted to establish why the organsation received its subsidy late.
To avoid future payment delays, the R44 million (US $4.3 million) set aside for TB treatment in the province this year would be paid quarterly, he said.
SANTA currently has 22 hospitalisation centres where TB patients are admitted for treatment and cure. It has 137 branches and 114 care groups, making it the largest volunteer-based anti-tuberculosis organisation in South Africa.