Cape Town - A two week stopover in dream holiday destination Maldives turned into a nightmare for a Cape Town man.
Andrew Coetzee from Mitchells Plain has been stuck in the Asian country for two and a half months after contracting Covid-19. His family said he was “held hostage” by a hospital that refused to release him when he was unable to settle the hefty bill.
Coetzee touched down in the capital Malé on July 24. It was supposed to be a two-week stopover to quarantine. Then, off to Saudi Arabia to start a lucrative new job as a diving technician on an offshore rig. Coetzee has been in this line of work for 15 years, and his career has taken him around the world, including places like Nigeria, Malaysia and Vietnam.
But this latest trip was the worst yet.
Coetzee developed Covid-pneumonia while in the Maldives, spent three weeks in a hospital bed and two more in an induced coma. He suffered a stroke while he was in a coma, leading to paralysis in his right hand. He had to undergo rehabilitation afterwards.
The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé would not let him leave until he coughed up nearly R200 000. Coetzee, who did not have any travel insurance, could not pay.
His family back home, wife Avril and their four children, are frantic with worry.
Andrew Coetzee from Mitchell’s Plain in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in the Maldives. After developing Covid-pneumonia, he was in an induced coma, where he suffered a stroke.
They said they had tirelessly tried to negotiate a payment plan with the hospital. They had even approached the Department of International Relations and Co-operation to intervene on their behalf, but without any luck. The department's spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said: “The law doesn't allow us as Dirco to financially assist in situations like these.”
Weekend Argus is in possession of the 11-page hospital bill. It meticulously details every charge from the day Coetzee was admitted on August 3. It comes to 202 769 Maldivian Rufiyaa. That is R197 000.
Nursing care accounts for the biggest cost: R60 697. No mention of meals. Coetzee had to pick up that tab himself. And when the money dried up and hunger loomed, Avril had to make a plan to transfer dollars to him. In a volley of emails, she blasted hospital staff for letting her husband “take medication on an empty stomach”.
Avril said the hospital eventually agreed they could pay off the bill. “They wanted US$10 000 dollars. We said we can only pay US$1 000 dollars, which was R15 000. And that was done last Friday (October 1).”
It took several days for the money to reflect in the hospital's account.
Coetzee was finally discharged on Friday. He was on a Qatar Airways flight 24 hours later, and is expected to land at Cape Town International Airport today (Sunday).
Avril said the entire experience had “taken a toll on us as a family”.
The Maldives does not have a South African embassy, and so consular services were provided from neighbouring Sri Lanka. Avril said the mission in Colombo had been helpful in terms of communication, but she received no assistance from Dirco.
Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor said: “I ask South Africans, when you travel, please take out travel insurance. Because it is a protection for you. You will be able to access health services. And your ticket will be guaranteed for a booking. We (Dirco) don't have money to assist. That is why we are saying always be insured.”
Speaking to Weekend Argus from his hospital bed in Indira Ghandi Memorial in Malé before he was discharged, Coetzee said: “It's been a difficult road to recovery and the experience has been difficult. I miss my kids. I miss my wife. She's been the backbone of everything. She has been very supportive and held everything together. And I can only say thank you for everything.”
Coetzee was not vaccinated prior to the Maldives trip. The jab for his age group only opened a short while before he flew out. Now he is encouraging everyone to get the vaccine.
“All I can say is this virus is very deadly. You have to take it very seriously. I almost died in hospital.
“I cherish every day I am still alive,” Coetzee said. And he said he planned to give his family the biggest hugs when he returned home.