Leaving no one behind: United Nations applauds South Africa’s NHI Bill

The United Nations and its World Health Organization (WHO) has applauded South Africa’s NHI Bill. File Picture: Ed Jones / AFP

The United Nations and its World Health Organization (WHO) has applauded South Africa’s NHI Bill. File Picture: Ed Jones / AFP

Published May 16, 2024


The United Nations (UN) has come out in support of South Africa’s controversial National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, following its signing into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa on May 15.

The international political organisation described the NHI Bill as a significant milestone on the road towards universal healthcare that leaves no one behind.

"In line with our Cooperation Framework and advocacy interventions with Government, the UN believes that the implementation of the NHI law stands as a beacon, guiding us towards the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Nelson Muffuh, who is the UN’s Resident Coordinator in South Africa.

“Particularly Goal 3.8 which aims to achieve Universal Health Coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential healthcare services for all, and promote health and wellbeing across all ages,” Muffuh added.

Having assessed the damage caused by Covid-19 pandemic, the UN’s Country Team in South Africa said there was a sense of urgency to strengthen the country’s public health systems.

The South African head of the UN-affiliated World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Fabian Ndenzalo also welcomed the signing of the NHI law, stating it reaffirms the country’s commitment to prioritise the wellbeing of its people.

“This has come in the wake of the country’s earlier endorsement of the most ambitious and comprehensive political declaration on health at the UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage in September 2019 and again in September 2023.”

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While the NHI Bill has been praised on many fronts for its intention to create healthcare equality in South Africa, it has also come under widespread criticism in the political and business spheres, and the scheme will face legal challenges from the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and civil rights organisation, AfriForum, among others.

Business Unity South Africa (Busa) has described the NHI Bill as unaffordable, unworkable and unconstitutional.

“What is especially troubling is that the president is proceeding with the bill, despite extensive constructive inputs made by a wide range of stakeholders, including doctors and healthcare professionals, civil society, public sector unions, academics and business,” said Busa CEO Cas Coovadia.