The launch of the Joint Public Health Enhancement Fund last week is a rare occurrence in the history of South Africa’s health care. The Fund illustrates that in a climate of tough economic times and international donor fatigue, local private sector funds are sorely needed if South Africa is to improve its health outcomes.
The signing of a social compact for health improvement between 23 private sector health companies and the national Department of Health last week is historic and over-shadows the differences that exist between the two. The private sector health companies have committed R40 million rand towards the creation of a Joint Public Health Enhancement Fund that will help government train 100 additional doctors, develop management expertise among health professionals and fund local research in HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis over the next three years. If successful, the spin-off could be that the partnership could be replicated in other public service sectors.
“This type of public-private partnership has never been tried anywhere else in the country. It’s the first time that this type of model has been tried in health care. And I suspect if this is successful, which we have every reason to believe it will be, then this could be a model that could be replicated in other parts of the economy and in other industries, certainly”, says Stavros Nicolaou, the chief executive officer for drug manufacturing company, Aspen Pharmacare, one of the signatories in the social compact for health.
The partnership comes at a time when traditional funders - largely foreign countries, corporations and organisations - are cutting back on health funding for developing nations. This initiative could well prove as an inspiration to donors who are pulling out, says Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, the executive director for Discovery Health, another signatory to the compact.
“There is nothing that inspires international partners to land a helping hand than when they also see that all the forces domestically are trying to do what they need to do. So, the first point is it’s important for the private health sector to partner with government because that gives encouragement to the internal co-operative partners. But, also, it does something else. We’ve just gone through a global economic crisis. We know many countries are re-considering their support for many other countries for very good legitimate reasons because of the troubles at home. Where we’ve got a country like South Africa which, actually, can mobilise a lot of domestic resources – as long as we are able to straddle the divide between the public and the private sector – it seems to me that it is extremely wise for us not to replace one form with the other because these things are all complementary”, Ntsaluba says.
It’s about time that the South African private health sector put its money in public health. ‘It’s putting our money where our mouths are’, says Aspen Pharmacare’s Stavros Nicolaou.
“This is South African companies and South African leaders, South African CEOs in the health care sector taking the lead here, putting their money where their mouth is and making long-term commitments… commitments that are going to, in my view, have a transformative effect in health care in this country. And health care is very important around the future of our country. If we’re saddled with an under-performing health care system, then the outlook is bleak”.
Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said the partnership was a ‘timely’ model of co-operation between the private and the public health sectors to build confidence in the public health system.
“It conveys a message to our people – that, together, we care about a long and healthy life for all South Africans. It is a timely occasion that is clearly communicating the most pressing message on the minds of both policy makers and market participants - that rebuilding the confidence in the public health sector for the full successful implementation of the National Health Insurance system is of utmost importance for our country. As South Africans, whether in public or in private, working together in partnership and inspired by our collective commitment to build a health system that provides quality care to all the citizens – rich and poor, urban and rural as well as across all the other many divides that characterise our nation – we surely can succeed”, Motsoaledi said.
He said the partnership was mooted two years ago when debate around the formation of a National Health Insurance system was raging. In Cape Town in 2010 he met 16 CEOs of private health sector companies and urged them to set their differences aside and proposed that the private and public health sectors work together on two challenges that are common to them – increasing human resources for health and strengthening the response to HIV and AIDS and TB.
“While we are making in-roads now, you all know that the scourge of HIV/AIDS in South Africa is the biggest and it’s in the interest of everybody to fight (it). I said, ‘let’s do that’. That needs no debate. No debate about whether it is worth it or whether it will work or whether it needs taxes and all that… In fighting HIV/AIDS, there can’t be a debate. I proposed that to them. The second area I proposed, I said, ‘let’s work together to start building the human resource for this country’. As we speak, 23 companies have agreed to be part of this venture of establishing the South African Joint Public Health Enhancement Fund”, said Motsoaledi.