The lack of clinics, poor quality of ambulance services and the role of traditional healers, featured high on the agenda of participants during the public hearings on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill in Jozini on Friday, 22 November this year.

The Portfolio Committee on Health kicked off its four-day hearings in KwaZulu-Natal, with a full crowd at the Makhonyeni Hall. Committee Chairperson, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, made it clear from the start of the meeting that the right to healthcare and the right to life supersede all other rights. He said “the committee is here to listen to all concerns and suggestions and will take these into consideration during deliberations on the Bill”.

The committee heard that the plight of the poor needed to be addressed in order for them to get quality healthcare. Proper facilities, and not community halls or child care centres that double up as clinics, needed to be attended to. The need for medical professionals to improve their services to the public was also raised. Assistance for the disabled and those living with albinism also featured at the hearings.

Residents raised concerns regarding the intended implementation date of 2026 of the Bill, as they felt the need is too urgent and that the NHI should be introduced immediately.

The aim of the Bill is to achieve universal access to quality healthcare services in South Africa, in accordance with section 27 of the Constitution. It further aims to establish a National Health Insurance Fund and to set out its powers, functions and governance structures to provide a framework for the strategic purchasing of healthcare services by the fund on behalf of its users, to create mechanisms for the equitable, effective and efficient utilisation of the resources of the fund to meet the healthcare needs of the population, and to preclude or limit undesirable, unethical and unlawful practices in relation to the fund and its users

Ms Thandeka Mpuzi wanted to know how the Bill will protect people living with albinism as they are under constant attack from traditional healers. “How will this help us. Traditional healers use our body parts for muti. Also, it is difficult for us to find employment,” she said.

Mr Khothija Ngubae also raised the issue of traditional healers, but in respect of the working environment in which everyone can be respected. “Have you done research on traditional health practices? We are growing older and the youth do not know much, which means our knowledge will die out with us.”

Another resident, Ms Cynthia Khunene, wanted clarity on how the NHI will benefit disabled people, and if they will be represented in the official NHI structures. The question of coverage for assisted devices and refurbished assisted devices was mentioned by several concerned residents.

Mr Sipho Thembe, who lives close to the Mozambican border, wanted to know if foreigners will also benefit from the same medical treatment as South Africans under the NHI. Many residents raised the issue of too few clinics and ambulance services that only arrive the next day, as examples of what needed to be fixed for the NHI to be successful.

The hearings continued the following day, on Saturday, the 23rd of November 2019.

By Rajaa Azzakani 
25 November 2019