The National Health Insurance (NHI), as it is defined, is the only everlasting solution to the crumbling South African public healthcare system, especially in the rural side of the country where the poorest of the poor die on a daily basis at public hospitals and clinics, that was what Ms Thandeka Pamla told the Insession writer at the Khayelitsha Multi-Purpose Centre yesterday.

Ms Pamla, who is the Chairperson of the Mandela Park Health Forum, led a delegation of the members of the forum to the multi-purpose centre where the second leg of the public hearings on the NHI Bill took place to express the collective view of the forum to the Portfolio Committee on Health which conducts the public hearings.

“We have been looking forward to the arrival of the committee in our area, to use the opportunity created for us to put our views across on the Bill. We are holding the same sentiments as other poor people elsewhere in the country, that the implementation of the NHI for our communities is long overdue,” emphasised Ms Pamla.

She said the NHI is the only practical alternative to the current dying public healthcare system. The majority of the people who didn’t attend the public hearings and who were asked by Insession for their opinions on the NHI, supported the Bill, arguing that the current public healthcare system is beyond revitalisation. It needs to be replaced.

Ms Nomguyo Xozana of Harare Section said although she supports the Bill, but she is pessimistic about its success as there is going to be the same people who are failing the current healthcare system, who are going to be responsible to render the services when it comes to the new one. “These people, especially officials and nurses must be retrained and taught health work ethics. The government must ensure that health services are regarded as essential services,” she emphasised.

The people argued that if the government is unable to keep the line between ordinary and essential services clearly bold, and ensure that there are serious consequences for health workers who embark on strike or industrial action, the introduction of the NHI is going to be rendered useless even in the worst way than the current public healthcare system.

Ms Xozana said: “There is a dilemma here, the Minister of Finance, when he delivers the budget speech with allocations for government departments that include the Department of Health, one wonders where is the oversight responsibility of Parliament, when a public resource like that dies in front of its Members’ eyes.”

Mr Ashley Cornelius, who is the Deputy Chairperson of the Delft Health Centre, said they support the Bill as the organisation and as individuals. “It is always inevitable that when something is failing or dying, the people would call for a new one. If I can make an analogy using a soccer match, the fans in a stadium always demand that an under-performing player must be substituted. We take the NHI as a befitting replacement for the current poor public healthcare system,” he said.

Ms Esther Mbanyaru, who is the Chairperson of the Khayelitsha Traditional Healers Organisation, said as traditional healers, they support the Bill and want to ensure that the traditional healthcare system is also enshrined in the NHI legislation. “The current legislation on healthcare excluded the traditional healthcare system. When the modern healthcare system was introduced, the traditional one was thrown away and regarded as a source of lethal viruses and we are very unhappy about that,” she said.

All the traditional healers the Insession writer spoke to, emphasised the fact that traditional medicine is regarded as mythical medicine, yet it helps the African people. The powerful Western countries import (herbs) plants from Africa, produce medicine and export that medicine to Africa in modern form,” said Mr Sihleli Nxasana, who is also a Khayelitsha-based traditional healer.

According to the government, there needs to be a radical improvement in the quality of services in the public health facilities – and that means massive investment in the improvement of the health infrastructure, both buildings and equipment.

Then, in every single health institution, certain basic core standards must be complied with. To ensure adherence to standards, an independent “watchdog” body called the Office of Health Standards Compliance will be established by an Act of Parliament.

The envisaged NHI promises that there is going to be a radical change to healthcare management within the public healthcare system in line with the 10 Point Programme of the Department of Health: “Overhauling the healthcare system and improve its management”. Regulations will include measures to standardise hospital care across the country and to ensure that managers of different categories of hospitals have specific skills, competencies and appropriate qualifications.

The committee has taken the public hearings today to the Eden District Municipality, where the town of George will host the hearings.

By Mava Lukani

6 February 2020