South Africa revisiting NHI as part of coronavirus fight: Mkhize

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize says that South Africa should look to come out of the coronavirus pandemic with ‘a legacy of advancing the ideals of Universal Health Coverage’.

He noted that the pandemic has hit at a time when the country is contemplating the National Health Insurance Bill.

“Covid-19 has tested even the most recognised Universal Health Coverage nations like the United Kingdom, much of Western Europe, China and Japan,” he said in a webinar on Friday (19 June).

“Even the toughest of economies have scuppered in the face of Covid-19. South Africa already faced a huge challenges without the introduction of Covid-19.

“The realisation of the National Health Insurance has been a road hampered by opposition, and a fundamentally flawed system that is being protected by those that benefited from it.

“Although the annual budgets of the private and public sectors are similar, the private sector only serves 16% while the public sector serves 84%.

“With such inequality, the public health care system has suffered in the sheer weight of the burden while the private sector was characterised by over-servicing in the face of rising and escalating health care costs.”

Mkhize added that the Competition Commission’s Health Market Inquiry, published in November last year, highlighted the gross inequity in healthcare, driven by fundamentally anti-competitive activity in the private sector and the flaws in legislation that allowed for the environment to thrive.

He said that his department has been revisiting the National Health Act and all other legislation that enables health to deliver on its mandate.

“There were certain regulations that were fought in court- like the certificate of need and the Pricing Regulations: regulation that sought to address the deficiencies highlighted by the Health Market Inquiry.

“This is an opportunity for us to examine the coming Covid-19 epidemiological crisis, strengthen what is already there so that we can pick low hanging fruit and implement, and then ensure we correct the problematic areas quickly before they contaminate our efforts of providing equitable access to quality healthcare.”

‘Breakthrough drug’

Mkhize also spoke on the use of dexamethasone and how it can be used for treatment in South Africa.

Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.

It has been listed on the World Health Organisation Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977 in multiple formulations and is currently off-patent and affordably available in most countries.

A recent UK trial found that for patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth.

“We have woken up to the exciting news on the utility of the medicine dexamethasone,” said Mkhize.

“We have quickly looked into our own situation and the Ministerial Advisory Committee is issuing an advisory to guide protocols for the use of dexamethasone in the clinical setting.

“We have checked and seen that we have over 300 000 vials in stock at present and we have the added advantage that the company licenced to manufacture the product is a South African company.”

Mkhize said that the country is also participating in other large, well managed, therapeutic trials to add to the body of knowledge and secure the ability to access therapeutics when the time comes.

Read: Two new coronavirus treatments will help take pressure off Western Cape hospitals

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South Africa revisiting NHI as part of coronavirus fight: Mkhize