Tag: public health

FULL SPEECH | This is What will Happen Next Says Ramaphosa as He Signs NHI Bill into Law

President Cyril Ramaphosa at signing ceremony of the NHI Bill at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Speech by Cyril Ramaphosa, article from Spotlight

President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday signed into law the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which is the ANC-led government’s plan for universal health coverage, just 14 days before the country heads to the polls.

The NHI aims to unify the country’s fragmented health system, Ramaphosa said at the signing ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday.

However, he also noted that processes are yet to be established and that the Act’s implementation will be incremental rather than a massive overnight overhaul.

Here are 8 noteworthy quotes from the President’s speech:

“[T]he NHI is a commitment to eradicating the stark inequalities that have long determined who receives adequate healthcare and who suffers from neglect”.

“[T]he NHI takes a bold stride towards a society where no individual must bear an untenable financial burden while seeking medical attention”.

“The real challenge in implementing the NHI lies not in the lack of funds, but in the misallocation of resources that currently favours the private health sector at the expense of public health needs.”

“The financial hurdles facing the NHI can be navigated with careful planning, strategic resource allocation and a steadfast commitment to achieving equity.”

“The NHI recognises the respective strengths and capabilities of the public and private health care systems. It aims to ensure that they complement and reinforce each other.”

“The NHI is an important instrument to tackle poverty. The rising cost of health care makes families poorer. By contrast, health care provided through the NHI frees up resources in poor families for other essential needs.”

“Following the signing of this Bill, we will be establishing the systems and putting in place the necessary governance structures to implement the NHI based on the primary health care approach.”

“The implementation of the NHI will be done in a phased approach, with key milestones in each phase, rather than an overnight event.”

Here is Ramaphosa’s full prepared speech:


Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla,
MECs of Health,
Senior Officials,
Representatives of the health fraternity,
Representatives of civil society,
Representatives of labour,
Members of Parliament’s Portfolio and Select Committees,
Public representatives,
Members of the media,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here today to witness the signing into law of the National Health Insurance Bill, a pivotal moment in the transformation of our country.

It is a milestone in South Africa’s ongoing quest for a more just society.

This transformational health care initiative gives further effect to our constitutional commitment to progressively realise access to health care services for all its citizens.

At its essence, the NHI is a commitment to eradicate the stark inequalities that have long determined who receives adequate healthcare and who suffers from neglect.

By putting in place a system that ensures equal access to health care regardless of a person’s social and economic circumstances, the NHI takes a bold stride towards a society where no individual must bear an untenable financial burden while seeking medical attention.

This vision is not just about social justice. It is also about efficiency and quality.

The provision of health care in this country is currently fragmented, unsustainable and unacceptable.

The public sector serves a large majority of the population, but faces budget constraints. The private sector serves a fraction of society at a far higher cost without a proportional improvement in health outcomes.

Addressing this imbalance requires a radical reimagining of resource allocation and a steadfast commitment to universal healthcare, a commitment we made to the United Nations.

The real challenge in implementing the NHI lies not in the lack of funds, but in the misallocation of resources that currently favours the private health sector at the expense of public health needs.

The NHI Bill presents an innovative approach to funding universal healthcare based on social solidarity.

It proposes a comprehensive strategy that combines various financial resources, including both additional funding and reallocating funds already in the health system.

This approach ensures contributions from a broader spectrum of society, emphasising the shared responsibility and mutual benefits envisioned by the NHI.

The financial hurdles facing the NHI can be navigated with careful planning, strategic resource allocation and a steadfast commitment to achieving equity.

The NHI carries the potential to transform the healthcare landscape, making the dream of quality, accessible care a reality for all its citizens.

The NHI Fund will procure services from public and private service providers to ensure all South Africans have access to quality health care.

The NHI recognises the respective strengths and capabilities of the public and private health care systems. It aims to ensure that they complement and reinforce each other.

Through more effective collaboration between the public and private sectors, we can ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The effective implementation of the NHI depends on the collective will of the South African people.

We all need to embrace a future where healthcare is a shared national treasure, reflective of the dignity and value we accord to every South African life.

Preparations for the implementation of NHI necessarily require a focused drive to improve the quality of health care.

We have already begun implementing a national quality improvement plan in public and private health care facilities, and are now seeing vast improvement.

In signing this Bill, we are signalling our determination to advance the constitutional right to access health care as articulated in Section 27 of the Constitution.

The passage of the Bill sets the foundation for ending a parallel inequitable health system where those without means are relegated to poor health care.

Under the NHI, access to quality care will be determined by need not by ability to pay. This will produce better health outcomes and prevent avoidable deaths.

The NHI is an important instrument to tackle poverty.

The rising cost of health care makes families poorer.

By contrast, health care provided through the NHI frees up resources in poor families for other essential needs.

The NHI will make health care in the country as a whole more affordable.

The way health care services will be paid for is meant to contain comprehensive health care costs and to ensure the available resources are more efficiently used.

Through the NHI, we plan to improve the effectiveness of health care provision by requiring all health facilities to achieve minimum quality health standards and be accredited.

Following the signing of this Bill, we will be establishing the systems and putting in place the necessary governance structures to implement the NHI based on the primary health care approach.

The implementation of the NHI will be done in a phased approach, with key milestones in each phase, rather than an overnight event.

There has been much debate about this Bill. Some people have expressed concern. Many others have expressed support.

What we need to remember is that South Africa is a constitutional democracy.

The Parliament that adopted this legislation was democratically-elected and its Members carried an electoral mandate to establish a National Health Insurance.

South Africa is also a country governed by the rule of law in which no person may be unduly deprived of their rights.

We are a country that has been built on dialogue and partnership, on working together to overcome differences in pursuit of a better life for all its people.

The NHI is an opportunity to make a break with the inequality and inefficiency that has long characterised our approach to the health of the South African people.

Let us work together, in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity, to make the NHI work.

I thank you.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Signing of NHI Bill into Law has no Effect Yet

Disappointment as President prepares to sign flawed bill

The announcement that President Cyril Ramaphosa will sign the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill into law this week without seeking much-needed revisions is disappointing, although not unexpected, according to the Health Funders Association (HFA).

“The HFA has been preparing for this day, despite our strong belief that a more collaborative approach between the public and private sectors is essential for achieving Universal Health Coverage [UHC] in a timely and effective manner,” says Craig Comrie, HFA Chairperson.

“We are deeply disappointed that the opportunity to review certain flawed sections of the NHI Bill has been missed, as the HFA sees enormous potential for leveraging the strengths of both public and private healthcare to expand access to quality care for all South Africans.

“Throughout the NHI Bill’s development process, the association submitted recommendations centred on collaboration and maximising the sustainability of healthcare provision through the use of a multi-funding model to build the South African healthcare system,” he says.

“Even with the President signing the NHI Bill into law on Wednesday, there will be no immediate impact on medical scheme benefits and contributions, nor any tax changes. The HFA is well prepared to defend the rights of medical scheme members and all South Africans to choose privately funded healthcare, where necessary.

“Our focus, as always, is on protecting and expanding access to quality healthcare for all South Africans. As we await the finer details of the President’s signing, we wish to assure all South Africans that we are ready for this next step,” Comrie says.

“The HFA will continue monitoring developments closely and share updates as necessary. Our goal remains the same: a healthcare system that works for all South Africans, and we will take all necessary actions to support that goal.”

BHF Annual Conference Concludes with Key NHI Insights and Roadmap for SA’s Healthcare Future

Photo by Pexels on Pixabay

After what was an insightful and collaborative meeting of the minds of healthcare professionals and experts at the 2024 BHF Annual Conference, the final day concluded by providing crucial insights into regulatory reforms shaping the future of healthcare in South Africa, as well as the legalities surrounding the controversial NHI Bill.  

Facilitated by Nomo Khumalo, BHF Director and Head of Solutions at MMI Health, part one of the discussion comprised the key regulatory responses essential for building a resilient health system capable of navigating beyond current barriers. 

Among the notable delegates participating in the discussion were Vincent Tlala, Registrar and CEO of the South African Pharmacy Council; Dr Magome Masike, Registrar of the Health Professions Council of South Africa; Dr Thandi S Mabeba, Chairperson of the Council for Medical Schemes; Dr Mark Blecher, Chief Director of Health and Social Development at the National Treasury; Yoliswa Makhasi, Director General of DPSA; and Dr Sandile Buthelezi, Director-General of the National Department of Health. 

Their expertise across the healthcare regulatory sector added invaluable insights into the state of the sector, where they explored the current policy landscape, analysed the intent of reforms versus the realities, and discussed necessary changes for policymakers to ensure healthcare sustainability. 

While all dignitaries note the need for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to bridge the gap in access to healthcare in South Africa, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, acknowledged the complexity of implementing the NHI and the need for a phased approach. To this end, Buthelezi cited that significant work is required to establish the fund, develop regulations, and set up administrative structures.

“Apart from this, optimising healthcare delivery requires prioritising resource utilisation through proper management and spending, and addressing managerial issues to utilise available resources effectively,” suggests Buthelezi. 

“Regulatory reforms are essential for advancing healthcare, encompassing standardised data collection, quality enhancement, and informed policy evolution. Moreover, the integration of digital health strategies is paramount, leveraging technology to bolster comprehensive health information systems and elevate healthcare delivery.”

Amidst the discussions, a common thread resonated among all dignitaries: the vital importance of collaboration. Here, Buthelezi stressed the necessity for stakeholders within the healthcare sector to unite in pursuit of shared goals, emphasising the need to improve health outcomes and effectively tackle challenges through collaborative efforts.

Following this, the conversation swung to the legalities of the impending NHI Bill in a session chaired by Michelle Beneke of Michelle Beneke Attorneys Inc, and featured industry experts Neil Kirby, Director at Werksmans Attorneys, and David Geral, Partner at Bowmans.

The conversation focused on the several facets of the implementation of the Bill, including its constitutionality, lack of government response to engagement efforts, and the broader regulatory challenges facing the healthcare industry.

According to Kirby, Werksman Attorneys, as legal representatives of BHF, have closely monitored the evolution of the NHI Bill, thoroughly scrutinising its alignment with South Africa’s constitutional principles.

“Regrettably, the implementation process hasn’t yielded a bill that adequately addresses our constitutional concerns. Despite incremental progress and assurances of future adjustments, the current iteration falls short of meeting the constitutional litmus test. 

“As stakeholders directly impacted by the bill’s implications, we cannot afford to overlook constitutional shortcomings. Our obligation demands rigorous adherence to constitutional standards, ensuring that any legislation enacted upholds the rights and principles enshrined in our constitution,” he says. 

To this end, Geral adds that the Bill introduces significant changes to the healthcare system, which may potentially affect tax policy and revenue sources. 

In closing the conference, Dr Katlego Mothudi, Managing Director at BHF, emphasised the success of the conference in addressing industry challenges while promoting sustainability across the healthcare sector. 

“As we conclude this enlightening conference, we reflect on the breadth of topics covered, from disease burden to the transformative potential of digitisation and AI in healthcare. Our discussions underscored the necessity of embracing change, combating fraud, and fostering regional collaboration. 

“With a firm focus on healthcare reform, particularly the intricacies of the NHI Bill, our gathering has propelled us toward a future marked by innovation, resilience, sustainability and collective action. In the words of Edgar Tan – we can have what we need if we use what we have,” he concludes.

Three Health Reforms the New Government must Prioritise for SA

Professor Bob Mash. (Photo: Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care, Stellenbosch University)

By Bob Mash for Spotlight

To drum up support as South Africans head to the polls, President Cyril Ramaphosa reportedly vowed to “end the apartheid that remains in healthcare” when he hit the campaign trail. Professor Bob Mash has three health reforms on his wishlist for the incoming administration to prioritise.

South Africa is battling a quadruple burden of disease that includes HIV and tuberculosis (TB), non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and mental health problems, challenges with maternal and child health, as well as substantial trauma from interpersonal violence and road traffic accidents.

At least 80% of the population is dependent on public sector health services. However, currently, we are in a state of austerity, with substantial cuts to the health budget that undermine years of work to improve the quality and coverage of health services.

In this context, what health reforms can be recommended?

In 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) told us that we need primary healthcare “now more than ever” and recommended four health reforms. Universal health coverage has become a mantra for governments and implies that everyone should have easy access to quality primary care without any significant financial barriers. They also recommended that services should move away from a focus on a few priority diseases (such as HIV) and selected health programmes (such as immunisations). Rather, services should be integrated and built around the needs of people, across the life course, and in a comprehensive approach that spans health promotion, disease prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

The WHO also recommended that integrated primary care be combined with essential public health functions. In other words, we don’t just worry about the people who enter the doors of the clinic but think about the health needs of all the people living in the catchment area. Finally, they recommended transformation of the leadership in health to make it more collaborative and to dialogue on policy with multiple stakeholders.

In South Africa, our last set of reforms were known as primary healthcare re-engineering. This led to the establishment of specialist clinical teams in each district to improve maternal and child healthcare, the establishment of teams of community health workers to extend the work of the clinic into the community and a focus on better health services – like health screenings and HPV vaccinations – at primary and secondary schools.

Of course, the other major policy reform that is still on the table is the introduction of national health insurance (NHI) to improve health equity and universal health coverage.

Going forward, three areas need urgent reform and attention.

More family physicians

Firstly, notwithstanding the 2030 Human Resources for Health Strategy, South Africa does not really have a comprehensive policy on the human resources for health that are needed. Thinking on primary healthcare and district hospitals has been particularly flawed in relation to family physicians. South Africa created a new medical speciality of family medicine in 2008 which has led to the training of family physicians in all nine medical schools. These are doctors who spend four years of additional training to be specialists in family medicine and to work in primary healthcare and district hospitals.

Family physicians are known to improve the quality of primary and district hospital care. They bring expertise closer to the community, capacitate the whole clinical team, improve quality, patient safety and reduce litigation. Adding a family physician to the clinical team is a cost-effective intervention. Despite this, only one province has really gone to scale with the employment of family physicians. This is a wasted opportunity and a low-hanging fruit in terms of reform.

The South African Academy of Family Physicians has a medium-term goal of one family physician at every community health centre, every district hospital and subdistrict (without a health centre). To achieve this, we need provinces to incrementally create posts over the next 10 years and to support an increase in the number of training opportunities.

Community-orientated primary care

As previously mentioned, we have introduced community health worker (CHW) teams into primary healthcare across the country. Unfortunately, many of these teams are dysfunctional due, for example, to an absence of supportive supervision, lack of resources or poor collaboration with the local primary care facility. Often, they are regarded as just extensions of the facility-based services and expected to perform tasks allocated by the clinic nurses.

The presence of these community health worker teams is, however, a huge opportunity to introduce community-orientated primary care (COPC). This model of primary care makes the switch to a focus on the health needs of the whole population served. Introducing COPC requires commitment to nine essential principles for organising primary healthcare.

Firstly, there must be a clear delineation of the community served and CHWs given responsibility for designated households (typically 250 households per CHW).  Facility-based and community-based health care workers must operate as one multidisciplinary team and offer a comprehensive approach as described earlier. The team must make a careful analysis of the health needs in their community and also the resources available (government, non-government and private, health and social services) to address these needs.

At this local level, the team should prioritise the health needs in a participatory process with community and other stakeholders, and develop interventions tailored to their community. This process requires a commitment to community and stakeholder engagement. It also requires data to provide information on the health needs and this can come from households, facilities, and other sources. Finally, the service should be built around the needs of people and ensure that equity is improved.

The implementation of CHWs across the country needs to be reframed within a clearer policy on COPC. One province has already published its intention to make COPC the model of care and other provinces have examples of best practice.

Honing in on diabetes, hypertension, and mental health care

The final area that needs reform with more resources and attention is non-communicable diseases – particularly diabetes, hypertension, and mental healthcare. Historically, we have focused on the challenges of HIV and TB in service delivery, research, and donor funding. We have also been mindful of the need to improve maternal and child health.

Diabetes is now the leading cause of death in women in South Africa. Hypertension, heart disease and stroke are together the largest cause of deaths across all causes. Mental health, substance abuse and psychosocial problems may not cause death, but are a huge cause of morbidity and illness.

There is a danger of inequity by disease, and we need to ensure that we allocate resources commensurate to the problem of non-communicable diseases. In particular, we need to ensure that we have patient education and counselling that empowers people for lifestyle change, self-management and better mental health. Interventions are also needed in communities and the population to make healthier choices (on problem-solving, physical activity, healthy eating, tobacco smoking, alcohol and substance use) the easier choice.

Improving people’s health and healthcare is essential for sustainable development in South Africa. As the country heads to the polls, the incoming government would do well to keep this in mind. Such reforms will lead to higher quality primary healthcare and help pave the way for the proposed national health insurance.

*Mash is the Executive and Divisional Head of the Department of Family and Emergency Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Stellenbosch University.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Activists and Patients March on Gauteng Health Department Demanding Radiation Treatment

Nearly R800-million set aside for radiation treatment outsourcing has not been spent

Activists and patients marched on Tuesday in Johannesburg demanding radiation treatment for cancer. Photo: Silver Sibiya

By Silver Sibiya for GroundUp

Activists and cancer patients marched to the offices of the Gauteng department of health on Tuesday demanding that millions of rands allocated for radiation treatment for cancer patients be used.

SECTION27, Cancer Alliance and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) called for the department to use R784-million set aside by the provincial treasury in March 2023 to outsource radiation treatment. They say not a single patient has received treatment through this intervention a year later.

In an open letter to health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko last week, Khanyisa Mapipa from SECTION27, Salomé Meyer from the Cancer Alliance and Ngqabutho Mpofu from TAC said that in March 2022, Cancer Alliance had compiled a detailed list of approximately 3000 patients who were awaiting radiation oncology treatment.

They said there were shortages of staff in the two radiation oncology centres in Gauteng, Steve Biko Academic Hospital and Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Charlotte Maxeke Hospital had only two operational machines compared to seven in 2020. Tenders for new equipment had been delayed and the backlog of patients was increasing, they said.

As a result, SECTION27 and Cancer Alliance had asked the provincial treasury to set aside R784-million to outsource radiation treatment. The money had been allocated in March 2023, but a year later, no service provider had been appointed.

“It has actually been four years since the matter was brought to the Department of Health,” said Mapipa on Tuesday. She said cancer patients were not getting the treatment they needed.

“We as Cancer Alliance and SECTION27 ran to Gauteng Treasury to ask them to allocate these funds. Gauteng Treasury responded and they gave this money, but this money is still sitting.”

Thato Moncho, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2020, is one of the patients on the waiting list. She said she had faced many delays in her treatment. “I’ve had three recurrences of cancer and I need to have radiation six weeks after my surgery, which they failed to give me. I have pleaded with the MEC of Health and the Chief Executive Officer at Charlotte Maxeke to speed up the process so I can get my radiation but they failed.”

“I’m pleading: help us so we can get radiation to live a normal life with our family.”

Gauteng Department of Health spokesperson Motalatale Modiba said the department had received the memorandum and would respond to it. He acknowledged that there had been delays which he said were caused by tender processes.

“It is in our interest to ensure that we get to address the backlog of those that require treatment, and the department will formally respond to the concerns that have been raised.” He said a tender had been awarded.

“In May the process to treat patients will start in both hospitals.”

“The respective heads of oncology in Charlotte Maxeke and Steve Biko hospitals are busy with that process of onboarding.”

Republished from GroundUp under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Source: GroundUp

Among Those Eligible, Low Levels of Referrals for Cochlear Implants

Photo by Brett Sayles

A survey conducted in the UK found that people with severe to profound hearing loss who were eligible for cochlear implants were less likely to be referred if they lived in deprived areas and were male.

The study, published in PLOS Medicine, was carried out to determine the rates at which people in the UK with hearing loss were getting correctly referred for implants under the NHS, and where disparities might exist. Referrals were to be made on the basis of meeting pure tone audiometric threshold criteria.

Of 6171 participants in the survey who underwent the pure tone test and already did not have a cochlear implant, only 38% were informed of their eligibility and a mere 9% were actually referred for assessment.

Participants were less likely to be referred if they lived in more economically deprived areas and also within London, were male or were older. In addition to these factors, living in more remote areas, and being Black or Asian also reduced the likelihood of being informed of eligibility.

Lower odds of referrals in economically deprived areas is in line with data from both public and private healthcare sectors in Australia and the U.S.

The researchers also found that the presence of a “cochlear implant champion” increased the likelihood of discussions around cochlear implants but not referrals. That males were less likely to be referred or informed to were interpreted as stemming from men’s differences in health-seeking behaviour compared to women.

Limitations included the observational nature of the study, reliance on accurate documentation of the referring service, and potential underrepresentation of certain demographic groups.

Stigma, Lack of Awareness Holding Back Use of HIV Prevention Pills, Experts Say

By Thabo Molelekwa for Spotlight

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán: https://www.pexels.com/photo/syringe-and-pills-on-blue-background-3936368/

Over the last four years South Africa has taken large strides in making HIV prevention pills available at public sector clinics, but uptake has not been as good as some may have hoped. Thabo Molelekwa asks several experts why this might be.

HIV prevention pills, also referred to as oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), contain a combination of two antiretroviral medicines. They  are highly effective at preventing HIV infection when taken as prescribed by someone not living with HIV.

But while the pills are now available through most public sector clinics in the country, not as many people are using them as one might have expected. According to the most recent estimates from Thembisa, the leading mathematical model of HIV in South Africa, only around 4% of sexually active adolescent girls and young women used PrEP in 2022. This is a substantial improvement on 0.6% in 2020, but given that the rate of new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women has remained stubbornly high, one may have expected this number to be higher by now.

“So the rates of uptake are definitely increasing in South Africa, but not to the point that we would hope. There’s still definitely a gap between people who would benefit from being on PrEP or alternative HIV prevention methods and those who are actually accessing the biomedical daily oral prevention,” says Cheryl Hendrickson, a Senior Researcher at the Health Economics and Epidemiology Research Office (HE²RO) at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Ongoing stigma

One explanation for uptake not being better is the ongoing impact of HIV-related stigma. A recent study conducted among young people in Gauteng found that stigma and a lack of confidentiality continue to impede PrEP adoption. The researchers identified several barriers for PrEP-naive participants, including limited knowledge, negative staff attitudes, and misconceptions about side effects. Structural factors like healthcare provider bias and a lack of culturally sensitive interventions were also found to hinder PrEP uptake. The research was conducted by HE²RO – Hendrickson was a co-author.

“Participants were worrying about their families or friends thinking they were taking ARVs,” says Constance Mongwenyana-Makhutle, a research associate and co-author of the study.

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, CEO of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, also emphasises the persistent role of stigma. “People don’t want to be associated with HIV, HIV risk or any misconception that they may be living with HIV and on antiretroviral therapy,” she tells Spotlight.

The perception around PrEP, says Dr Fareed Abdullah, Director of AIDS and TB Research at the South African Medical Research Council, is similar to that of contraception. “Basically, a young person would consider it an admission that they are sexually active and consider themselves to be at risk of HIV; thereby inviting judgement and stigma from others, especially healthcare workers,” he says.

Not enough awareness?

Closely related to the issue of stigma is awareness. Here COVID-19 may have played a role. As the provision of PrEP through public sector clinics gained momentum in 2020, many potential PrEP users would have stayed away from clinics due to pandemic-related restrictions and fear of contracting SARS-CoV-2. The pandemic also meant that any plans to build awareness of PrEP would have had a hard time finding purchase, at least in 2020 and 2021.

Reflecting on past HIV awareness campaigns, Bekker stresses the need for increased public demand creation for PrEP

“I think we have not had enough public demand creation- if you think of the campaigns for getting people to take up COVID vaccines….then we really haven’t done enough in this regard. It is a new concept- a pill a day to prevent HIV ……and so people need to have the idea socialised and normalised so that there is also a reduction in stigma,” she says.

What happens at the clinic

Another barrier to PrEP uptake is likely that while PrEP is being made available through public sector clinics, not everyone feels welcome at, or like to visit, their local clinic.

Bekker says youth complain that government clinics are often a barrier for them to access PrEP. “Their hours, their long queues, their discrimination and sometimes the prejudicial attitudes drive young people away,” she says.

Bekker argues that some of these barriers would be removed if HIV prevention measures was taken outside of health facilities and into community spaces.

“PrEP for young people in the public sector is free. If they want to use private pharmacies though, they would need to pay currently. I think more can be done to make PrEP and other sexual and reproductive health services more readily available so that young people, in a way, have no excuses not to make sure they are using them … colleges, universities and even secondary schools could also reach more young people. If we want to reduce STIs and unintended pregnancies in our adolescents, we are going to have to be sure there are very few barriers to these contraceptive and prophylactic services,” says Bekker.

Hendrickson points out that there are several projects around the country that are looking at alternative service delivery methods. “There’s a project that’s looking at prep delivery in pharmacies. Currently, they are providing oral prep, and hopefully soon, they will provide injectable prep within several pharmacies in Gauteng and the Western Cape,” she says. According to her, the pharmacy model appeals especially to men.

Healthcare worker attitudes and training

Related to the issue of visiting public healthcare facilities to access PrEP, healthcare worker attitudes and training has also been flagged as a concern.

Bekker says some health care professionals are not trained to deal with young people in their diversity. “Adolescents are a very distinct population – they can be offended, they value their privacy, and they can make health choices and decisions but need supportive, empathic and tailored information that they can use,” she says.

Abdullah makes a similar point. If some health care workers are properly trained, can identify people at high-risk and understand the efficacy of the intervention, then the vast majority would follow and offer the service in a professional manner, he says.

Ritshidze, a community-based healthcare monitoring group, say they have observed an increase in the number of healthcare facilities where staff say they prioritise offering PrEP to members of key populations such as young women and adolescent girls or men who have sex with men. Of 394 clinic staff surveyed earlier this year, 97% said they prioritise young women and adolescent girls.

But when Ritshidze asked users of healthcare facilities whether they’ve been offered PrEP, the numbers were much lower. “Compared to data collected in 2022, our 2023 data report a lower percentage of people saying they have been offered PrEP for most population groups,” Ritshidze say in a recent report. Complaints about negative staff attitudes have been a running theme in Ritshidze’s reports on public sector healthcare facilities over the last three years.

Actual and perceived risk

Abdullah suggests another barrier to PrEP uptake. There is a perception that HIV is no longer an urgent priority and that the risk of infection is low. This, he says, has led to lower public awareness of the importance of behaviour change and the need for young people at risk to protect themselves.

Recent data from a Human Sciences Research Council survey and the District Health Barometer indicate that condom use is declining in South Africa. While the reasons for the decline are not clear, one theory is that it is driven by the perceived risk of HIV infection having reduced over time.

Will more choice help?

Currently only oral PrEP is routinely available in the public sector, but PrEP in the form of a two-monthly injection and a monthly vaginal ring have been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority and is being offered to people taking part in pilot projects. It is likely that the prevention injection will become much more widely available once its price drops sufficiently – which is anticipated to happen once generic manufacturers enter the market in around three years’ time. Products that combine PrEP and a contraceptive into a single pill or injection are also under development.

Mitchell Warren, director of Avac, a global HIV advocacy organisation, is optimistic about people being offered a choice between the three types of PrEP. While condoms were widely available in public clinics in the 1990s, Warren says he noted the desire of people to buy condoms from spaza shops, shebeens, or pharmacies. This didn’t replace clinic supplies, he clarifies, but it did bring into sharper focus the importance of providing choice to people.

“But even with three different PrEP options, what we clearly have known for many years now is that PrEP is not only about the products, PrEP is really a programme, helping people identify not just their personal risk, but their desires, what they want and need out of relationships,” he says.

Government perspective

Foster Mohale, spokesperson for the National Department of Health, says the department is aware of reports of youth experiencing problems accessing PrEP at healthcare facilities.

Mohale maintains that healthcare workers are sufficiently trained to provide comprehensive HIV prevention services to all groups of people. He says that clinicians, counsellors, health promotors and peer educators have access to online training platforms. “These training modules are availed offline on flash drives to facilitate access to facilities and health care providers that do not have easy access to wifi or data to access the online version of the training materials,” he says.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Pilot Project in SA Now Offering HIV Prevention Injection

Taking antiretrovirals to prevent HIV infection is available in the form of pills, vaginal rings, and injections. (File photo: Nasief Manie/Spotlight)

A new HIV prevention injection is now available to a select number of people in South Africa. That a single shot provides two months of protection is one of the injection’s major selling points. In this story, Elri Voigt unpacks how much of the jab is available, who is choosing to get it and what other anti-HIV drugs are being rolled out.

By Elri Voigt for Spotlight

Earlier this month, a young person in Cape Town became one of the first people in the country to receive a new HIV prevention injection outside of a clinical trial. The injection contains a long-acting formulation of the antiretroviral drug cabotegravir (CAB-LA for short). It provides two months of protection against HIV infection per shot.

“We were excited and nervous at the same time because (we) didn’t know how this person is going to react to an injection,” said Pakama Mapukata, a nurse and study coordinator. She added that the first person who received the CAB-LA injection responded well and told her that the injection was less painful than an sexually transmitted infection (STI) injection they had to receive in the past.

While the injection is not readily available for most members of the public just yet, a select number of people in the country will be able to access it via several implementation studies, also called pilot projects. One of these pilots is a study called FAST PrEP, conducted by the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF) in Cape Town. Technically, access to the injection is limited to a FAST PrEP sub study called Prepare to Choose.

Taking antiretrovirals to prevent HIV infection is referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is available in the form of pills, vaginal rings, and injections.

According to Elzette Rousseau, a social behavioural scientist and the lead co-investigator in the implementation team for FAST PrEP, on the first day it was offered, five people opted to get the CAB-LA shot. “The first two, at least, that came through was a young MSM [men who have sex with men] and one was a young woman, which is definitely exciting because that is the population that we would want to come to our services which will benefit most from it,” she said. As of 21 February, 19 injections in total had been administered.

‘Real-world experience’

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, Chief Executive Officer of the DTHF and Principal Investigator of the study, explained that once CAB-LA demonstrated efficacy in phase three clinical trials, it was decided to first do some implementation science studies in the country, alongside the other new PrEP option which is the dapivirine vaginal ring (DPV-VR), before rolling it out in the public sector.

Both the CAB-LA injection and the dapivirine ring have been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). Prevention pills, also called oral PrEP, were approved several years earlier and are already widely available in the public sector and at pharmacies.

She explained the idea is that these implementation studies can help transition the product from the clinical trial setting to a real-world rollout in the public sector. Essentially the pilots would serve as a way of introducing the injectable and the ring on a smaller scale and lessons learnt from the pilots could be used to inform the future, larger rollout of these products. It also helps pick up any potential issues or safety concerns that may not have been seen in the clinical trials.

She added that pilot projects also help inform what the demand for a product like CAB-LA and the DPV-VR will be, which can help with advocacy efforts and give the manufacturers and companies who create generic products an idea of whether it’s worth investing in these products.

“There really are limited pilots going on in the country to date,” Bekker said. The pilots that are offering CAB-LA in addition to the DTHF are being conducted by Ezintsha and Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), as well as the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI). Spotlight reported on this in-depth last year.

CAB-LA delays

Bekker told Spotlight the volumes of CAB-LA available in the country remain constrained for now.

While SAHPRA approved the injection in late 2022, limited supply and the product’s high price has limited uptake around the world. A recent HIV investment case for South Africa found the injection not to be cost-effective at the current price compared to PrEP in the form of pills. For now, the only supplier of CAB-LA is the pharmaceutical company ViiV Healthcare. Generic products are anticipated to enter the market in three to four years.

Despite SAHPRA approval for the product, the pilot projects have experienced delays in getting CAB-LA to their participants. As Spotlight reported last year, the National Department of Health stated that there were challenges getting the CAB-LA injections donated for the implementation studies into the country as the packaging did not meet South African regulatory requirements.

Bekker said that an alternative is to import CAB-LA through a phase 3b study (in this case the Prepare to Choose study), approved by SAHPRA’s Clinical Trial committee. Writing up protocols and having the study approved by an ethics committee and SAHPRA took some time, and once it was approved, CAB-LA still needed to be imported and ViiV Healthcare had to ramp up manufacturing to meet demand.

Bekker told Spotlight that to date, CAB-LA has not yet been purchased by the National Department of Health for distribution to the public, and the only other way to get CAB-LA into the country will be through a donation by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

“PEPFAR has been able to import the product into Zambia and Malawi…as the first two PEPFAR countries to get it as a PEPFAR donated public rollout and we hope South Africa is in that queue further down the line,” she said.

The Prepare to Choose Study

At the moment, Prepare to Choose can only offer CAB-LA to a few hundred people. Bekker said that ideally, they would have wanted to offer all their FAST PrEP clients a three-way choice of either the vaginal ring, oral PrEP pills or CAB-LA. But for now, CAB-LA is only being offered within Prepare to Choose, which is a single-nested sub study within FAST PrEP.

Mapukata, who was present during the first CAB-LA injection in the implementation study, said it will be interesting to see what participants choose now that they have an additional PrEP option. “People have been waiting for injection for the longest time, so we are seeing lots of excitement from the participant side,” she said.

Rousseau told Spotlight that Prepare to Choose currently has enough CAB-LA doses for 900 participants over an 18-month period.

She said they have thus far observed that “people are still choosing what [PrEP option] suits them” when offering existing or potential FAST PrEP participants the choice to access CAB-LA.

So far those who have chosen CAB-LA are primarily adolescent girls and young women with an average age of 22. Some have been on PrEP before, while others are starting PrEP for the first time. “In that cohort we know that the burden of HIV exists, so that’s encouraging at this point,” Rousseau said.

Trends observed in FAST PrEP 

FAST PrEP is being implemented at 12 public sector health facilities in the Klipfontein and Mitchells Plain Health Sub-Districts in the Western Cape, as well as in four mobile clinics that operate in the area. Since the start of FAST PrEP, just under 11 000 participants have enrolled, according to Rousseau. This means that around 11 000 people have accessed either prevention pills or the DPV-VR through the study.

When FAST PrEP started, the assumption was that the study can enrol between 20 000 and 23 000 participants, but it is not necessarily targeting to enrol that exact number of participants. Rousseau added that the study currently has funding to continue offering PrEP until late next year but access to these options may potentially continue beyond that.

The study reaches participants in public sector healthcare facilities by having two peer navigators in each facility. These peer navigators are young people trained and employed by the study coordinators. They can educate and counsel young people about FAST PrEP. The study coordinators also offer training, particularly sensitisation training, to nurses and other staff members.

The four mobile clinics travel around the Klipfontein and Mitchells Plain Health Sub-Districts, particularly where there is a high incidence of HIV, as well as spaces where young people are present. These include 16 secondary schools in the area where the mobile clinics have permission to enter the school grounds.

Demand for the DPV-VR

Rousseau told Spotlight that so far, just under 200 women in the study have chosen to use the DPV-VR. However, it’s important to note that within the whole study population, not everyone is eligible to use the ring. It is currently being offered to women who are over 18, not pregnant and not breastfeeding.

She added that for participants who are eligible for both the ring and oral PrEP, the pill is still more popular – with a rough estimate of around 15% of eligible participants opting for the ring. Most participants, at this stage, who choose to use the ring are those who have tried oral PrEP first and struggle to take pills daily or found it doesn’t suit their lifestyle. Very few participants to date have started on the ring and then switched to the daily pill.

Dapivirine vaginal ring. Credit: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

She said the demographics of who prefers the ring over oral PrEP haven’t been explored in-depth, but it’s something that the study will be looking at and analysing data on in future.

Bekker added to this saying: “We always expected it to be a bit of a niche product because you know definitely for many the idea of swallowing a pill is perhaps an easier concept than using a vaginal ring. So, it has started slowly, we’ve now administered hundreds as opposed to thousands of rings.”

She noted that interest in the ring has built overtime and is starting to pick up more. “Our first, preliminary data suggests that the women who choose rings are coming back [for it] …they’ve decided they want to go that road and they’ve committed,” Bekker said.

Counselling for Choice

While the ring was found to be effective in two phase 3 trials, its efficacy in those trials was far from 100% and the evidence for the ring’s efficacy is generally less impressive than that for pills and the injection. Interpreting findings from PrEP trials is also somewhat muddied by whether or not pills are taken as prescribed, and the ring is used and replaced as prescribed – that a single shot provides two months of protection is one of the injection’s major selling points.

Compared to placebo, there was a 30% reduction in HIV infection for ring users in phase three trials, while there was a 50 to 60% reduction in infection when the ring went to open-label, Bekker noted.

She said that it has previously been observed that clinical trial efficacy results can differ from real-world results, particularly when it comes to HIV prevention. For instance, she said, oral PrEP in clinical trials initially showed no evidence of efficacy in the prevention of HIV in women. Yet, real-world evidence showed it works in all populations if taken as prescribed.

What both these cases have shown, according to Bekker, is that it’s not necessarily that the product isn’t working, it’s that the product isn’t always being used as intended. When it comes to the ring, she said, the drug within the ring is efficacious and will kill the virus, but the ring must be present at the time that the individual is exposed to HIV. “Once you take the ring out, the [prevention] effect is lost,” she said.

When asked how women are counselled about the ring in the FAST PrEP study, Bekker said it is done very carefully and with guidance of their peers – this is where the peer navigators play a big role.

FAST PrEP was designed using a lot of engagement from young people, Bekker said. For a year before the pilot started, a group of 100 young people from diverse populations were enrolled from the community to give feedback on how to design the pilot so it can best reach young people. This group also essentially helped troubleshoot the information coming from the pilot to ensure that the PrEP choices were communicated in an appropriate way.

“They are very instrumental at the moment in making sure that that message [on DPV-VR] is clearly communicated,” she said.

Bekker added that if an individual needs time to think about which PrEP option to use, they are advised to start with oral PrEP and that they can switch later if they want.

Mapukata explained how the counselling process plays out on the ground. Participants in FAST PrEP, once they have spoken to a peer navigator, are taken into a counselling room and given a quiz where their scores are used to indicate what PrEP option might work for them. This is used as a starting point to counsel participants about the different PrEP options and which options they are eligible for and most comfortable using.

“It’s a lot of counselling that goes in before that choice [of PrEP] is made,” Mapukata said.

Young people who are members of the FAST PrEP youth reference group speak of the project in glowing terms. “And it’s so nice because you have a variety to choose from, you’re not obligated [to only] be on PrEP, on the oral, because there’s a variety of options,” one of them told Spotlight.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Health Budget 2024: Tangible Investment Needed to Alleviate Poverty-related Health Issues and Build Trust for NHI

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana tables his 2024 Budget during a joint seating of the National Assembly in the Cape Town City Hall. (Photo: National Treasury)

By Wanga Zembe, Donela Besada, Funeka Bango, Tanya Doherty, Catherine Egbe, Charles Parry, Darshini Govindasamy, Renee Street, Caradee Wright and Tamara Kredo

The 2024 national budget offers some glimmers but allocations for direct health benefits fall short of making a difference to people’s health and wellbeing. These include a ring-fenced allocation to crack down on corruption in health to inspire trust for the National Health Insurance, taxing accessories for e-cigarettes, a jacked up child-support grant, clarity on plans dealing with climate change and its impacts on human health, and finally greater investment to enhance women’s capabilities alongside the Covid-19 grant, researchers from the South African Medical Research Council write exclusively for Spotlight.

The 2024 national budget presented last week by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana contained several key elements that have an impact on systems, services and wellbeing from a health perspective.

Importantly, not only direct health spend, but budget allocated to social protection and climate infrastructure has implications for health outcomes such as nutrition, growth and food security. Health taxes, to address illness caused by alcohol, cigarettes and e-cigarettes amongst others, are also key revenue streams with taxation intended to deter use.

As researchers at the South African Medical Research Council we are dedicated to improving the health of people in South Africa through research and innovation. We wish to share some insights into positive areas in the budget and to point out areas where there are gaps with potentially dire consequences for the health of our nation.

In real terms, the health budget is shrinking.

Health has been allocated a total of R848-billion over the medium-term expenditure framework. This includes R11.6-billion to address the 2023 wage agreement, R27.3-billion for infrastructure and R1.4-billion for the National Health Insurance (NHI) grant.  Compared to the medium-term budget policy statement in October last year, government is now adding R57.6-billion to pay salaries of teachers, nurses and doctors, among other critical services.

In real terms, the health budget is shrinking. The allocation to cover last year’s higher-than-anticipated wage settlement is a positive step to try to fill posts for essential health workers. But this allocation falls short of fully funding the centrally agreed wage deal, meaning that provincial health departments will be unable to fill all essential posts.

Treasury’s Chief Director for Health and Social Development, Mark Blecher, was quoted as saying that the “extra money would not be sufficient to hire all the recently qualified doctors who have been unable to secure jobs with the state, and provincial Health Departments will need to determine which posts should be prioritised”. He added: “There will be less downsizing, and more posts will be filled, but it is unlikely they all will be.”

South Africa has a ratio of only 7.9 physicians per 100 000 people in the public health system, while it has been estimated that there are more than 800 unemployed newly qualified doctors. Considering the health-workforce shortfalls, the amount of money allocated appears optimistic for service coverage for the increasing population.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers building a health workforce a highly cost-effective strategy. Salaries continue to consume the largest share of provincial health budgets, estimated at 64% since 2018. The Human Resources for Health strategy lacks clarity on the implementation of workforce-planning approaches with significant implications for how provinces prioritise workforce cadres to keep up with the increasing needs – particularly in light of NHI.

Nutrition support on the decline

The Minister described protecting the budgets of critical programmes such as school-nutrition programmes, which includes almost 20 000 schools. He noted that the early childhood development (ECD) grant will be allocated R1.6-billion rising to R2-billion over the medium term.

Ensuring nutrition support to children under-five for optimal physical and cognitive growth is vital. The 2023 National Food and Nutrition Security Survey by the Human Sciences Research Council found that 29% of children under five in South Africa are stunted (short for their age). The proportion of children experiencing both acute and chronic under-nutrition has increased over the past decade. Stunted children are more likely to earn less and have a higher risk of obesity and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease as adults.

Currently, only registered or conditionally registered Early Learning Programmes (ELPs) serving poor children (determined by income-means testing) are eligible to receive the ECD subsidy. This is not aligned with inflation and the real value of the R17 per child per day subsidy and the contribution to nutrition costs  have decreased over time. The subsidy is not enough to cover the costs of running quality programmes, let alone the costs of providing nutritious meals. The World Bank suggests a minimum of R31 per child per day.

There is also concern about the children missed who attend informal or unregistered programmes. According to the 2021 Early Childhood Development Census, only 41% of ELPs are registered and only 33%, registered or not, receive the subsidy. Unregistered ELPs are more likely to be based in vulnerable communities and attended by children from vulnerable households. Further, although about 1.7 million children are enrolled in ELPs, enrolment rates vary across provinces from 40% in Gauteng to 26% in the Eastern Cape. This means many young children are not enrolled, and, of those enrolled, most do not benefit from the subsidy.

Child grants increase not keeping up with inflation

Child grants appear in the budget every year, but the increases do not keep up with inflation, and particularly not with the basket of goods needed for a growing child. In real terms grant amounts are decreasing – visible in the way hunger is increasing throughout the country, particularly in the Eastern Cape where uptake of social grants is very high.

A recent Department of Social Development report – Reducing Child Poverty: A review of child poverty and the value of the Child Support Grant – recommended, as a minimum, an immediate increase of the child-support grant to the food poverty level (R760 last year), as more than 8 million children receiving it were found to be going hungry/missing a meal at least once a day. The R20 increase falls far short of that recommendation.

The Social Relief of Distress Grant and women’s economic empowerment

As part of pandemic recovery efforts, we commend government for the roll-out of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant and its plans to extend this beyond March 2025. While SRD continues to suffer implementation challenges related to the amount and roll-out; it  presents an opportunity for renewed attention to a comprehensive and inclusive approach to women’s economic empowerment.

The recent Stats SA labour survey reported a higher unemployment rate among women (35.7%) versus men (30.7%). Our research also finds that women caregivers of children and adolescents living with HIV are particularly vulnerable to poor health and economic outcomes. Greater investment in programmes that enhance women’s opportunities alongside the SRD could promote the sustainability of pandemic-recovery efforts.

The NHI, health-system reforms and dealing with corruption in health

The Minister indicated that the allocation for NHI – government’s policy for implementing universal health coverage – demonstrates commitment to this policy. He also noted that there are a range of system-strengthening activities, that are key enablers of an improved public healthcare system, including strengthening the health-information system; upgrading facilities; enhancing management at district and facility level; and developing reference pricing and provider payment mechanisms for hospitals. He recognised that these require further development before NHI can be rolled out at scale.

The NHI allocation must show a tangible commitment to health-system reforms. Funding needs to be allocated for the creation of organisational infrastructure that ensures transparent, trustworthy decisions will be made about the benefits package and programmes to be funded. Specifically, funding for conducting Health Technology Assessments with credible processes that manage interests and ensure coverage decisions are informed by independent appraisal of the best-available evidence, measures of affordability, and with public input. Some areas of government already undertake such work, for example the National Essential Medicine Committee, but how these processes will expand beyond medicine to include decisions about health-systems arrangements and public-health interventions remain unclear, and apparently unfunded.

Undoubtedly, facilities need to be upgraded. It’s positive to see this as a named activity. It is however unclear how the upgrade of health facilities and quality of care will be ensured, given that tertiary infrastructure grants have been reduced due to underspending of conditional grants. Currently, health facilities’ quality is assessed by the Office of Health Standards Compliance whose role is to inspect and certify facilities. This is a prerequisite for accreditation under NHI. This means the watchdog agency will need adequate budget. Implementation research is also required to test out the different NHI public-private contracting models. Furthermore, a ring-fenced allocation to deal with corruption in health, would be welcomed and inspire trust for NHI.

‘Sin’ taxes vs ’health taxes’

The Minister proposed excise duties and above-inflation increases of between 6.7 and 7.2% for 2024/25 for alcohol products and indicated that tobacco-excise duties will be increased by 4.7% for cigarettes and cigarette tobacco and by 8.2% for pipe tobacco and cigars. And, based on inputs from citizens, the Minister also tabled an increase in excise duties on electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (vapes).

While there may be a concern that increasing taxes on products consumed by the poor is regressive, there are ways to direct revenue gained back to those sub-populations and it’s not fair to deny them the benefits of consuming less alcohol products.

It is notable that excise taxes on wine have been increased to a greater percentage than spirits, but the health effects of alcohol come from the ethanol not the type of liquor product so it would make more sense to make the excise tax rate per litre of absolute alcohol equal across all products. The budget has not moved this forward in any meaningful way.

The proposed tax on tobacco products is not in line with WHO recommendations and is below inflation. This should be at least 70% of the retail price to have a positive impact on public health by reducing tobacco use, especially in a country with one of the highest tobacco-use rates in the region. In South Africa, the tax is currently between 50 – 60%. Although the tax on electronic cigarettes has increased, it is still below inflation. We hope that this increase will deter more young people from starting to use e-cigarettes and encourage current users to quit. We also hope that this increase is not just once-off and that future increases are made with the goal of reducing e-cigarette use.

Overall, the taxes on tobacco products and electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems are below inflation. This means that manufacturers can absorb the increases, and consumers may not be deterred from using them. This is a missed opportunity, as there is a clear link between these products and the development of non-communicable diseases, like hypertension, and the worsening of communicable diseases, like tuberculosis.

The impact of climate change on lives and livelihoods

Climate and health are closely related, with more attention being paid by the global research community  to potential impacts of climate change and natural disasters on lives and livelihoods. The Minister noted a multi-layered risk-based approach to manage some of the fiscal risks associated with climate change. These include a Climate Change Response Fund; disaster-response grants; support and funding from multilateral development banks and international funders to support climate adaptation, mitigation, energy transition and sustainability initiatives; and, municipal-level adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

There are numerous health co-benefits to these strategies. For example, investing in renewable energy sources can improve air quality, leading to reduced respiratory illness. There is a need to highlight these co-benefits and to foster intersectoral collaboration.

Overall, from the perspective of health researchers, we note the mention of NHI plans, social protection, nutrition, health workforce, health taxes and climate. However, we all agree that the allocations for direct health benefits and to address social determinants of health, such as education and poverty-alleviation, fall short of what is recommended, from global and national research evidence, to make a difference to people’s health and wellbeing.

*SAMRC researchers: Wanga Zembe, Donela Besada, Funeka Bango, Tanya Doherty, Catherine Egbe, Charles Parry, Darshini Govindasamy, Renee Street, Caradee Wright and Tamara Kredo.

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons licence.

Source: Spotlight

Unemployed Doctors March to Union Buildings

They are calling for the president to intervene and make sure medical professionals are employed

By Silver Sibiya for GroundUp

Scores of unemployed doctors, nurses and other health workers marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Monday, calling for the Presidency to intervene in the ongoing financial problems facing the health sector.

One of their main demands is for the health budget to be increased to absorb about 800 medical professionals.

Joining the march, Mandla Matshabe, said he never imagined being unemployed when he completed his community service at Sefako Makgatho University in December last year after studying in Cuba.

“Now I’m sitting at home with a medical qualification when there is a dire need. It’s appalling to think there are medical professionals at home,” he said.

Matshabe, who lives in Hazyview in Mpumalanga, said many unemployed health workers were becoming depressed at home. He said hiring qualified doctors could help alleviate some of the burnout among doctors in the public sector.

“Doctors in communities are overburdened because we don’t have enough medical professionals, including physiotherapists and dieticians or everyone in the hospital,” he said.

University of Cape Town graduate Lerato Jaca said it was discouraging to be an unemployed doctor. “I come from KwaNzimakwe in Port Shepstone where there were literally no doctors when I was growing up.”

Jaca was raised by an unemployed single mother who relied on the money she made during Jaca’s three-year community service employment at Ermelo Hospital.

She said they now rely on her brother’s disability grant and his children’s child support grants to buy food.

Deputy President of the South African Medical Association, Dr Nkateko Minisi, said: “Other health professionals in the allied sectors, including pharmacy, are here with us to hand over a memorandum to build up the health system. But to do so, we feel that human capital must be optimised by hiring all these unemployed professionals. Not tomorrow, not next week but now!” she said.

Mnisi said more than 80% of the population depends on public health services. “Healthcare is not a privilege that should be enjoyed by some; it is a basic human right that every single person deserves.”

Communications Manager at The Presidency, Phil Mahlangu accepted the group’s memorandum.

He said that the presidency was “immensely worried as the presidency about the negative issues affecting the medical industry”. He promised the protestors a response within a week.

Republished from GroundUp under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Source: GroundUp