The conclusion of the two-day oversight visit by the Portfolio Committee on Health in the Northern Cape on Saturday, coincided with the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer vaccine in the province, and that coincidence enabled the committee to witness the availability of the vaccines to launch the roll-out of Phase 2 of the vaccination programme in the province.
The purpose of the visit which started on Friday was to assess the state of readiness to roll-out the Phase 2 vaccination programme in the province. The programme which will start from today (17 May) will include the elderly and people with comorbidities. The committee heard that the province received vaccines that will cover 3150 people.
The decision of the province to receive fewer vaccines to avoid wastage especially in relation to capacity challenges and logistical impediments particularly in deep rural areas, was acknowledged by the committee. Furthermore, the committee has noted the request of the province to the National Department of Health to consider prioritising supplying mainly the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the province in light of a lack of refrigeration in the province.
Despite the province's good plans in place, the committee concluded, however, that the financial, infrastructure and topography challenges, as well as the performance of the provincial public healthcare system, will be a litmus test for the roll-out of the vaccination programme in the province. The committee said the top-slicing of about 2% of the budget of the Provincial Department of Health worsens an already dire situation.
"The committee has written to the National Treasury inviting the Minister and the department for a discussion on budgetary cuts especially to the health portfolio. This portfolio deals with matters of life and death, and continuous cutting of the budget is impacting negatively on the delivery of services," said Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the Chairperson of the committee.
The committee is of the view that the equitable share model disadvantages vast provinces such as the Northern Cape and where there is no reliable public transport for the majority of South Africans to reach healthcare facilities.
The committee noted the excellent work done by the Provincial Department of Health at the medical depot in Kimberley and innovative programmes it has implemented to ensure smooth distribution of medication to healthcare facilities. The mixed delivery model which the province adopted indicates door to door approach for some districts and central point of delivery for others.
The committee was impressed by the smoothless system of dispatching medication at the depot. The committee has also evaluated the refrigeration systems to be used to store the vaccines and it appreciated the clear protocols to be followed in handling the vaccines.
Notwithstanding the teething challenges created by budgetary constraints, the committee has encouraged the province to do everything it can, to ensure effective roll-out of the Phase 2 vaccination programme and subsequent phases in order to protect lives of the people of South Africa. "We also encourage our people to go all out to get vaccination which is a shield to overcome the silent killer called Covid-19," Dr Dhlomo emphasised.
The committee will, in the coming weeks schedule oversight visits to other provinces to assess the implementation of the roll-out of the Phase 2 vaccination programme.