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Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced a little while ago that SA fares worst in the area of health than any other Brics country. While this is shocking, it certainly won’t surprise anyone who has had the grave misfortune to have experienced our state health system first hand.
The past week I have, on two occasions, been reminded of the horror that is our health system.
A business owner and friend called to ask what could be done to help one of her staff members, who is extremely ill and had been waiting at the hospital with her husband for more than 48 hours without being seen. My friend had been in regular phone contact with her employee, who reported that she and her husband were both feeling anxious, because two people had died in the queue, while waiting to be attended to. I couldn’t offer her any advice, never mind help.
Later in the week a colleague from Durban told me about a young man who had had a car accident, and, not having medical aid, was taken to a state hospital for treatment. He was stabilised on arrival, and the family were advised that he would require surgery on one of his legs that had been badly smashed. Three days later he was still lying in agony without any idea of when the surgery would take place.
We hear the stories every day.
To say that it is appalling is an understatement. It is shameful.
Having listened to what the doctors in the Eastern Cape had to say on Carte Blanche recently, I feel desperately sorry for those doctors working in the state system. They cannot even treat a fraction of those in need. How can we allocate 7 million people to one paediatric cardiologist? Is it any wonder 62 children out of every 1 000 won’t make it to their fifth birthday?
Motsoaledi said the number of people who died annually in SA had almost doubled between 1997 and 2006, going from 317 131 to 612 462. SA’s dire mortality statistics were attributed to communicable diseases, especially HIV and tuberculosis, but one has to wonder whether better treatment facilities wouldn’t bring these numbers down significantly.
The cost of health care, particularly in the private sector, became the focus of discussions at this year’s Board of Health Funders (BHF) conference this week. Unsurprisingly, the minister attacked the players behind the spiralling costs.
I don’t wish to enter this particular debate, but what I can say, Mr Minister, is that South Africans will have no option but to try to meet the high costs of private health care, because the alternative is no alternative at all. The state health-care system is what is creating the demand.
* Melanie Veness is the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.