opinionBy Khopotso Bodibe
A unique partnership launched this week between the private health sector and the national Health Department will result in more student doctors being trained, the strengthening of health management education and training and the funding of local research in TB and HIV and AIDS.
The Joint Public Health Enhancement Fund has raised R40 million to support government efforts to improve the public health system over the next three years. The Fund has been developed out of a social compact for health improvement entered into by leading private sector health care companies and the national Health Department.
“After two years of engagement, 23 companies have agreed to be part of this venture of establishing the South African Joint Public Health Enhancement Fund. What has been collected for 2013 – because it will start next year – is a sum of R40 million”, says Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
He says the R40 million will fund three projects. Half the Fund – a total of R20 million – will go towards training 100 additional student doctors at R200 000 each across the country’s medical schools to boost the production of doctors. South Africa currently produces a tiny 1 200 doctors for a population of 51 million people annually.
“Eight medical universities will be helped to take extra medical students than they usually do. Those who, in terms of the university scores, would not have qualified because they come from very seriously disadvantaged backgrounds attending schools under trees and (in) shacks. Schools where they’ve have never seen a laboratory, etc. They will go in and get extra tuition and extra help.
The money of R20 million will be utilised to fund them because universities believe in order to do that they will need R200 000 per student. That is much more than an ordinary bursary that a student needs to attend even the most expensive university in South Africa. But these are special students”, Motsoaledi says.
These additional medical students are in addition to the 1 000 that are going to Cuba for medical training this year. The dean of the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Eric Buch, says that his faculty is ready to assist.
“In the national interest we will be taking in an extra 60 medical students next year, which will increase our class size to 300. We’re busy working on plans to increase our intake to 400 medical students per year in 2016. It’ll be the first year students. Of the 60 additional students next year, 50 of them will come from a historically disadvantaged background”, says Professor Buch.
The remaining half of the Fund – another R20 million – will be shared equally to fund health care workers who wish to pursue health management studies through the recently-established Academy for Leadership and Management for Health and to support high-level research studies in HIV and AIDS as well as Tuberculosis.
“The second project is to support the Academy for Leadership and Management for Health, to the tune of R10 million. All the CEOs who will start training next year will utilise this Fund to undertake their training”.
“The third one (is) a programme to support (the) development of high-level expertise in understanding effective clinical management of the twin epidemics of TB and HIV and AIDS. We cannot be a country which carries the biggest burden of TB and HIV and AIDS and, then, look for solutions elsewhere. We believe the greatest expertise in dealing with TB and HIV/AIDS must be from South Africa. So, for this reason, a sum of R10 million has been put aside from the Enhancement Fund.
This money is going to help to support scholarships for PhDs, doctoral and post-doctoral and Masters studies in bio-medical, clinical and health systems in the area of HIV and AIDS and TB”, says Motsoaledi.
He says he envisages that the Fund will assist to produce a substantial number of PhDs, which is imperative if South Africa is to reverse its high burden of TB and HIV and AIDS.
Speaking on behalf of the companies that support the Fund, the Group Executive Director of Discovery Health, Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, said the programme has an initial life-span of three years.
“All the companies that are signatory to the compact have made a commitment for an initial period of three years. There will be an annual contribution. So, the R40 million the Minister referred to is for 2013. There will be another contribution in 2014 and another one in 2015. The exact amounts will then be announced as we move on”.
Ntsaluba said the partnership will be reviewed after three years to determine its future.
The Chief Executive Officer for pharmaceutical company, Aspen Pharmacare, Stavros Nicolaou, says this private-public sector partnership recognises that both health sectors need to co-operate to respond to the challenges facing the country.
“Our country suffers from one of the worst disease burdens globally and we’ve got a clearly defined private sector and a clearly defined public sector. We’re only going to start making strides in addressing this disproportionate disease burden if the two sectors start working together with each other”, says Stavros.