The Portfolio Committee on Health received a briefing in the first week of January from the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, on the status of healthcare services in the provinces in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and on the latest developments, including the rollout strategy for the vaccine.

Dr Mkhize told the committee that the South African government will be the sole purchaser of vaccines for South Africa. The Department of Health will contract with suppliers to purchase stock and then allocate it to provincial departments of health and the private health sector.

The committee expressed concern about discrepancies between the number of infections and the case fatality rate in the various provinces, as there are higher case fatality rates in some provinces compared to others. The committee noted from the presentation that Gauteng has a higher infection rate, but a low case fatality rate. It urged the department to look into the issue of data accuracy and consistency urgently.

Another matter which the committee said needs immediate attention is the provision of optimal treatment to all patients in order to increase the rate of survival.

In welcoming the briefing, the committee appreciated the work done so far by the department in securing vaccines. According to the department, South Africa will receive an initial one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in January and half a million doses in February from the Serum Institute of India.

The committee called on the department to strengthen its communication strategies to ensure that communities are educated about the pandemic and the measures they need to take when diagnosed. This communication drive will dispel inaccuracies.

The committee expressed its concern over the delays in the procurement of the vaccines and agreed to take full responsibility on the oversight of the procurement of the vaccine nevertheless.

It told Dr Mkhize that it sees Covid-19-related developments at a distance, as if it is a minor role-player, yet it has a constitutional oversight responsibility over the department. On this basis, it deserves regular updates on developments with the pandemic and on the vaccine rollout strategy.

Mava Lukani
14 January 2020