The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, was in the National Assembly to present his department’s budget vote yesterday in a virtual mini-plenary sitting. The department’s previously tabled 2020/21 annual performance plan has now been adjusted to take into consideration the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on South Africa’s health system.

Dr Mkhize tabled the new baseline budget for 2020/ 2021, based on these adjustments, at R58.4 billion, with a total allocation of R5.5 billion earmarked for Covid-19. “The Covid-19 pandemic has motivated all of South Africa’s health institutions to rethink, re-organise and reshape their priorities and agendas. In this context, many of South Africa’s leading research institutions and senior researchers have forged new national and global research collaborations, aimed at urgently answering critical clinical and public health questions,” he said.

He mentioned the many clinical trials both planned and in progress aimed at identifying new technologies for the prevention of Covid-19 infection. These include vaccine studies, pre-exposure prophylaxis studies, and studies aimed at evaluating new therapies for both early treatment and for later treatment of hospitalised patients.

Other studies underway include the establishment of a pregnancy register to evaluate potential harm to pregnant women and/or their babies caused by Covid-19 infection, and a number of qualitative studies exploring the socio-psychological impacts of Covid-19 infection, and of the pandemic more generally on the social and mental well-being of South African citizens.

He said the department’s entities and statutory councils continue play a vital role in supporting health services and improving the health of South Africans. To this end, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) received an additional grant in the region of R96.7 million and provinces were allocated some R2.1 billion as part of the R3.4 billion conditional grant to pay the National Health Laboratory Service for expanded Covid-19 testing services.

In response to Covid-19, the NICD has played an important role by providing epidemiological support to provinces; developing and reviewing national guidelines; expanding the hospital surveillance system to monitoring mortality and morbidity in all hospitals; and conducting new laboratory-based investigations including sero-epidemiology, viral tracking and viral culture.

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) plays a role through research, innovation, development and technology transfer. Its research includes laboratory investigations, clinical research, and public health studies. It also publishes the Report on Weekly Deaths in South Africa.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Mkhize said the SAMRC has conducted a study on excess deaths during this period. “Their findings reveal that there may be additional deaths that are unaccounted for, based on the modelling they have done.

“We have urged all provinces to report deaths as guided by the World Health Organisation protocols so that they can be recorded and reported as soon as the information becomes available, to avoid the backlog as we have seen in the Eastern Cape. This may create a confusing and concerning perception that there is underreporting of Covid-19 deaths. We will continue to monitor all provinces to ensure that the reporting of Covid-19-related deaths is timeously done.”

Mava Lukani
23 July 2020