The Discovery Foundation is considering increasing the funds it awards for the training of medical specialists to help the country deal with a shortage of health professionals.
The company committed R150 million in 2006 to train 300 specialists over 10 years.
To date, a total of R84m had been awarded to academics training in subjects such as tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, neuropsychiatry, kidney diseases and pneumonia, among others. Some 169 specialists had graduated from this programme, but the foundation said it was rethinking the funding of academic and rural fellowship programmes so that more people could benefit.
Discovery Foundation chairman Vincent Maphai, said it wanted to focus on the training and expansion of the pool of academics as it realised that the future of the public and the private health-care sectors relied on the quality of specialists the country had.
“We can’t stare at the national Department of Health and the health minister to fix all the challenges we have,” Maphai said during the 2012 Discovery Foundation Awards on Wednesday.
Maphai said the fact that South Africa’s doctor-to-patient ratio was below what the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended meant that the training of health-care professionals had to be upscaled, even more so as the country moved towards the National Health Insurance (NHI) system.
South Africa had 66 doctors for every 100 000 people, while the WHO recommended 77.
Jonathan Broomberg, the chief executive of Discovery Health, said the company saw the need to deal with the crisis in specialists’ training because it was affecting the distribution of specialists, especially in rural communities, which often had no access to these services.
“In addition to the shortage, there is misdistribution in the supply, so we have to deal with the undersupply, the urban bias, racial bias and correct the tremendous shortage of black specialists,” he said.
The concern was that if a country had a general shortage of specialists, there was an even deeper shortage of sub-specialists, the specialists who focus on more critical diseases.
“We want to grow the sub-specialists awards and we are considering a couple of new awards that will deal with management skills and capacity.”
Health Department director-general Precious Matsoso said the timing for the Discovery Foundation to fund training for medical specialists was key to the department, especially after it launched the NHI human resource strategy. She said the numbers were there, but that they needed partnerships like these to make it possible.
Discovery shares closed unchanged at R54.