Quality health ‘long overdue’
Better healthcare and improved services were high on the agenda at a meeting called by civil society organisations this week. They are calling on government to speed up the implementation of the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) whose aim is to ensure that all South Africans and permanent residents receive equal and quality care. It will also attempt to close the gap between the private and public health sector. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) President Sidumo Dlamini, said the NHI will help make quality health care affordable for many.
“When you go to a hospital or a doctor, the first thing they ask you is whether or not you have medical aid, and if you do have it are there sufficient funds in it. If you don’t have those then you get sent away to a public hospital. We, therefore, have good reason to celebrate the decision to implement the NHI by 2012, although we will do so with caution because government wants to model NHI around public-private partnerships which we know from experience… this is bound to fail in ensuring an effective service delivery because it is based on profit motives”, says Dlamini.
The Traditional Healers Organisation (THO) has also added its voice to the call to implement the NHI. But National Co-ordinator, Pepsile Maseko, said that they are concerned about the effect of the NHI on the many people who are using traditional medicine.
“Traditional medicine alone has contributed close to 3 billion (rands) to the GDP of the country. If so many people have belief in a system that is not necessarily favoured by your government or health officials, what then will happen? What will happen to the people who are going to be serviced within the NHI, but are not interested in Western healing forms?
Does it mean those people’s health rights have been undermined? As the THO, we believe we have a strong case to say, like any other persons, we need to be supported in healing. It’s very important that government puts in place a system to ensure our protection”.
Civil society groups say the country needs to move with speed to fight diseases such as HIV/AIDS and its effects on the high mortality rate the country is battling to reduce. Section 27’s Director, Mark Heywood, says HIV/AIDS denialism has set the country back.
“We cannot under-estimate the consequences of the failure to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and what that failure to deal with it in the last 10 years has done in terms of poverty and inequality. About 2.5 million people have died in 10 years of HIV/AIDS - predominantly adults. Those people were breadwinners in many instances. HIV/AIDS must remain a major priority. There are one million orphans because of it. Again, it is a driver of poverty and inequality”.
He says the proposed NHI will play a key role in smoothening out some of these inequalities. But Heywood warned against the corruption that might come with the NHI.
“We must succeed with the National Health Insurance, but we should be weary because the National Health Insurance can be a new trophy for ‘tenderpreneurs’ if we don’t service the interests of the poor people. Many people who are sniffing and scouting around the NHI do not have the best interests of the people without proper health care systems at heart. We have to develop a position on NHI and make sure that the proposals on NHI from our government will ensure that people have universal access to quality health care services”, says Heywood.
Meanwhile, the Treatment Action Campaign, (TAC) has questioned how the NHI will be implemented and how it will affect the majority of citizens. The TAC’s Adila Hassim says it is about time a discussion on NHI takes place.
“We have been calling for NHI for many years; the NHI was part of the ANC’s health plan in 1994. We have now finally come to a point where there is a real discussion taking place in terms of NHI. What we do know for now is that the purpose of NHI is based on the principle of the right to health that is meant to realise the right to access health facilities and the prevention of illnesses. But we have to ask ourselves: How are we going to implement NHI? I think we need a government plan that opens up a transparent public process where we can engage with it”.
The meeting also highlighted poor management, staff shortages and lack of resources in the health sector as concerns that need to be urgently addressed.