South Africa: Elders Share Lessons As SA Engages On NHI

2 September 2019

The Elders, a group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights, have called on South Africa to draw on experiences from other countries who have implemented the National Health Insurance (NHI) and make it their own.

Founded by Former President Nelson Mandela in 2007, The Elders have been campaigning for Universal Health Coverage throughout the world since 2016.

The visit by The Elders follows the recent introduction of the NHI Bill to Parliament.

Through the NHI financing system, all citizens of South Africa will be provided with essential healthcare, regardless of their employment status and ability to make a monetary contribution to the NHI Fund.

On Monday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and The Elders gathered at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital to engage with stakeholders from government, health sector and civil society in an effort to understand South Africa's journey to universal health coverage.

The Elders shared lessons learned from their respective countries but urged South Africa to choose best practices from other countries and tweak it to make it uniquely South African.

A member of the Elders - Former Chile Prime Minister Ricardo Lagos shared lessons on how his country, Chile, managed to achieve reform.

Lagos shared Chile's approach to universal healthcare which implemented its NHI through a phased approach and targeted low hanging fruits in the early stages.

"We implemented reform by firstly targeting certain diseases in the early stages of the NHI and gradually added more diseases as the system improved," said Lagos.

Mkhize confirmed that South Africa would indeed implement the plan in a phased approach.

"Indeed South Africa will implement the #NHI in a phased approach using the district to district model," said the Minister.

Former Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, challenged the notion that South Africa cannot afford to implement the NHI because of a sluggish economy.

"I think it's important to challenge the view that the NHI Bill is unaffordable. Many countries have implemented NHI in times of economic difficulties such as Britain, Chile, Thailand and Norway.

"It's important to remember that investment in health equals investment in the economy," she said.

Brundtland said while South Africa spends a significant portion of its GDP (8.1%) on health, it has poorer outcomes than those countries such as Thailand that spend less (3.7 %) on health.

She stressed the importance of tackling inefficiency in the way funds are administered and dealing with corruption to ensure better outcomes.

The Elders, led by their Deputy Chairperson Graca Machel, will meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday.

The global leaders and former Presidents will also address the Portfolio Committee on Health in Parliament.

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