23 February 2011

South Africa: Billions Pumped Into Health Care

Photo: Aly Ramji / Mediapix
Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan.

Cape Town — Government has set aside over R8 billion from the Health Department's budget of R113 billion towards boosting hospital facilities that will see the phasing in of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHI).

The scheme, which is expected to revolutionalise the health sector in South Africa, was one of the far reaching resolutions taken at the ruling African National Congress Polokwane elective conference in December 2007. Officials say it is aimed at improving the primary health service across the country.

Delivering this year's R979 billion budget in Parliament on Wednesday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said R1.2 billion will go towards the introduction of "family heath care teams, R2.9 billion to improve health facilities and medical equipment and R1.4 billion for improved district-based maternal and child health services."

About 1.7 billion has been allocated to the new Health Infrastructure Grant, which will be used to build and maintain health infrastructure. Government envisages that the NHI will be phased in over the next 14 years.

Gordhan said government's expenditure on the Comprehensive HIV conditional grant will amount to R26.9 billion over the next three years, based on an increase in the number of people on treatment from 1.2 million this year to 2.6 million in the next two years.

"The phasing in of the NHI will require substantial reforms to address imbalances across the public and private sectors and expand health professional training," he said, adding that the financial and organizational implications of the reforms were being jointly addressed by both the Health Department and National Treasury.

The South African government says it is intensifying investment in health services as part of the 10 point plan to restructure public health, which includes the NHI. The challenges facing the sector include high rates of infant and maternal mortality, HIV and AIDS, inadequate health infrastructure and a shortage of skilled health workers.

Spending on health has grown strongly over the past three years, from R63 billion in 2007/08 to R102.5 billion in 2010/2011 financial year. The Treasury says expenditure is expected to grow to R113 billion in the next year and R127 billion in the following year, an average annual growth of 7.5 percent.

This year's budget also makes the provision of R6.5 billion mainly to cater for infant and maternal health care, HIV and AIDS treatment and improvement of health infrastructure. An additional R1.4 billion goes towards improving child health services, through a wide range of interventions, including training of 400 nurses and midwives as outlined by President Jacob Zuma in the State Of the Nation Address earlier this month.

To reinforce gains made in the fight against HIV, the State will use R2.5 billion to increase counseling and testing awareness and to extend the lower entry threshold for antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. The move will see an increase in the total number of people on ARV treatment from 1.2 million this year to 2.6 million in the next three years.

To help retain experienced personnel in the health sector, R1.6 billion has been allocated in the budget for various personnel categories including 30 therapeutic health professional groups and for occupational-specific dispensation for medical officers and junior specialist doctors.

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