In an address to health workers from rural areas across South Africa, and other parts of the world, the Western Cape Minister of Health, Theuns Botha, highlighted the interventions that Western Cape Government has executed in the past five years to bring quality health services closer to people, particularly in rural areas.
Minister Botha was speaking at the Rural Health Conference at the University of Stellenboch Ukwanda Training College.
Minister Botha pointed out that in the Western Cape less than 2 percent of people dependent on public health services live in deep rural areas, and that it was important for our health workers to understand the challenges faced by other provinces.
“One of the Western Cape Government’s strategic objectives is to Create Wellness, which is focused on increasing the number of healthy people living in the province and decreasing preventable, chronic diseases. However, the reality worldwide is that public health care is in deep trouble, the burden of disease continues to grow while our budgets are failing to keep up.”
“We have prioritized creating a vibrant growing regional economy but for use to achieve this we need a skilled and healthy workforce that contributes to the economy and is not entirely dependent on social welfare. We realise the preventative health care is important in achieving this objective, which is why the provincial department of health has developed and implemented a plan to create an opportunity for every single individual in our province to have a proper health screening once a year. In this way we can detect diseases early, and through education and information, prevent many diseases and reduce the burden of disease in the province.
“One of our interventions under this plan is the introduction of Wellness Mobiles for School Health, to screen Grade R and Grade 1 learners across the province. This year we launched five state-of-the-art mobiles, which are visiting school in both urban and rural areas and are providing a range of health services to children including screening for TB symptoms, ear, nose and throat examinations, eyesight testing, issuing spectacles, if needed, as well as oral health screening and providing dental care. While the 5 mobiles are contributing greatly to preventative health care, we estimated that we need 21 mobiles to be able to reach all learners in the province. We plan to partner with the private sector to increase the number of mobiles in the future.”
“We also identified the importance of the correct ratio between patients and staff at our health facilities. We have therefore focused on increasing our staff complement which has resulted in our staff vacancy rate currently being less than 4 percent. Some other provinces are struggling with a 40 percent vacancy rate.”
“Our government has also built or renovated 136 health facilities over the past five years including rebuilding many hospitals in rural areas. In addition our fleet of EMS vehicles play a key role in overcoming distance challenges in rural areas, in particular our HealthNet vehicle transports thousands of outpatients from rural areas to district and tertiary hospitals each year.”
Minister Botha also referred to community health workers and health promoters who deliver health services in rural areas, as well as health posts on farms, provided through the generosity of farm owners.
“In-migration from other African countries as well as other provinces in South Africa is a big challenge that puts strain on our health facilities and budget. Another problems is that our health practitioner are often unable to communicate with people speaking foreign languages. The provincial department of health is currently developing new technologies to address this problem.”
Minister Botha also said that he believed that there needed to be a re-think of the current academic platform. “It is crucial that tertiary institutions keep up with the new infrastructure and technology being introduced in the medical field and that this is incorporated into their curriculums. It is also important that some of this new infrastructure is introduced in our tertiary hospitals. I also believe that South Africa is also ready for its own private medical school and I intend addressing this issue on national level.
The issue regarding private medical schools is currently prohibited by the National Health Act. It therefore requires a “healthy debate” to determine way forward. We do not have enough medical doctors in SA and the National Government reverts to the Cuban Program to address it. Our solution is permission for a private academic platform, incentives to retain professional skill in SA and support and expansion of the existing medical schools.
“It is also crucial that citizens living in both urban and rural areas take responsibility for their health by eating healthily, exercising regularly and not abusing alcohol and drugs or engaging in risky sexual behaviour. We will only be able to achieve our objective of Creating Wellness in the province if government, the private sector, civil society, communities and individuals work together.”