Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi
TODAY, July 18, marks the birthday of the father of our new South African nation, Nelson Mandela.
Many people throughout the country will engage in one noble cause or another to help the less fortunate among us and to promote the good in all of us in honour of Madiba, an icon of all that is good in humanity – love, justice, freedom and equality.
For our part as the Department of Health, the best way to honour Mandela and keep his legacy alive is to move with speed to implement the National Health Insurance (NHI), a health financing plan that will ensure quality health care to all South Africans regardless of their social or economic status.
It is not a secret that Mandela loved everybody, including those who had positioned themselves as his enemies.
But he had a special space in his big heart for children. The huge parties that he hosted for children, mainly from disadvantaged background, in his home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape every December became annual calendar events for various media houses and some business people who sought to impress Mandela by donating Christmas gifts to the children.
Because of his undying love for children, Mandela raised funds to build a state of the art hospital for children. The facility was completed after his death.
It is clear that Mandela valued the provision of health care as crucially important.
So, during times like these when we, as a collective, reflect on his selfless contribution to the betterment of society him and try our best to keep his legacy alive, we should give him a report about how we are moving to create a better quality of live for all, particularly children, the most vulnerable in our society.
We are proud to tell Mandela, the undisputed champion of the vulnerable and the poor, that we, inspired by the Constitution that orders us to give health care to all people, have launched the NHI.
We can report that while the white paper on NHI has just been adopted by the cabinet, we had already started helping children through the NHI-related initiatives.
Some of the deliverables we have made in pursuing your dream of a better life include the following:
The mother-to-child transmission of HIV rate has decreased from 8% in 2008 to less than 1.5% in 2016.
This means that a significantly smaller number of infants are born with HIV. As well, the institutional maternal mortality rate (mothers who die giving birth in health facilities) has also declined.
This is important as we know that infants are more likely to survive and thrive if their moms are present.
Institutional maternal mortality has declined from 190/100 000 live births in 2009 to 127/100 000 in 2015.
As a result largely of the significant number of people living with HIV being on ARVs, the life expectancy of South Africans has increased.
STATSSA reported that male life expectancy in 2010 was 56.5 years which increased to 61.9 years in 2015; female life expectancy was 61.2 years in 2010 and rose to 67.7 years in 2015.
But for us as the Department of Health, the big project reverse the legacy of apartheid in health and inequality is the NHI.
For ages, the apartheid system neglected black areas and provided poor quality health care in black towns and townships.
Through the NHI, we are systematically reversing this. One of the pillars of the NHI is primary health care. This means that our people who live in rural areas would not need to travel long distances to hospitals where they would most likely stand in long queues.
The sick would visit the nearby clinics. We are currently engaged in a massive infrastructure development programme whereby we are refurbishing clinics and building new ones to ensure that all our people have access to good quality health care.
Through the NHI programme, we have developed the concept on an ideal clinic. We have already launched several pilot projects for an ideal clinic. One of the noticeable difference between the ideal clinic and an ordinary clinic at the moment is the availability of a doctor at the ideal clinic.
The availability of a medical doctor at a clinic will go a long way to improve the quality level of health care provision at local area. This will also help boost the confidence that our people would have in the system. The result is that we will be able to reduce long queues in our hospitals as some of the services would be offered at the clinic level.
The other pillar of the NHI is a strong focus on prevention.
Through the NHI programme, we are rolling out a massive prevention programme. Although we have been able to put more than 3,6 million on ARV programme, the truth is that there is currently no cure for Aids and prevention remains the most effective tool to keep our people healthy.
In this regard, we have invested lots of resources towards better quality free condoms and their better distribution throughout the country.
We are spending lots of money to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Through various campaigns, we have launched initiatives aimed at discouraging our people, especially the youth, from smoking and the excessive use of alcohol. We also launched a programme to teach our people about the dangers of sugar and salt.
While all these initiatives are noble gestures to improve the quality of life, they remain secondary. The primary focus in the efforts to improve health care provision is allocation of resources.
Money is at the centre of health care. Currently too much money is being spent on too few people and this legacy of apartheid that Mandela and others like him fought so hard against, must change.
The NHI is that funding mechanism that equalises the provision of health care between the haves and havenots.
The NHI is the effective tool that reverses apartheid planning that sought to condemn the majority of people to ill-equipped and understaffed hospitals while the minority, the rich, had exclusive use of the best medical facilities in the country.
Equity is what Mandela fought for. Let us keep his legacy by promoting equity in health care.
NHI is our answer to address the inequity in health.