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People in rural areas should have, if not equal access, at least reasonable and dignified access to healthcare services, a Protecting Rural Healthcare In Times Of Economic Crisis study showed.

The study, which focused on how resilient government systems and structures are key to protecting the most vulnerable in society and how that can be achieved for both urban and rural citizen, was undertaken by the Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP).

The study findings based on research over a three year period, revealed the difficulties to promise equal health care services access to rural communities as there is a shortage of healthcare specialists to be based in every single district in the country. 

“We rely on a functional referral system, so at least a reasonable and dignified access is required,” said RHAP Technical Advisor, Marije Versteeg-Mojanaga.

Versteeg-Mojanaga said lack of health care specialists forces patients to sleep over at hospitals to catch the next referral transport to urban hospitals. 

“That process can take the whole day. The conditions at the hospitals were the patients sleep are not good. There is no safe accommodation. Some patients sleep on the floor and some don't have food for when they stand in long queues for medical attention.”

Speaking at the media launch in Johannesburg on Tuesday RHAP Director, Russell Rensburg, said South Africa spends over 8% (R480 billion) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health related expenditure, but regardless of this, people in the rural areas still cannot access proper healthcare services. 

“Professional healthcare workers from urban areas are deployed to assist at the rural areas, but that's not enough as it is only a few professionals to care for thousands of patients,” he said.

Rensburg added that: “Even the number of people seeking medical health at local clinics has decreased because of poor services.”

Multiple causes such as continued inequality and rural health neglect were found to be conflicting approaches to priority-setting within available resources. Versteeg-Mojanaga said:  ”We cannot continue to expand coverage for those with already high coverage before groups with lower coverage resources. We need to have different priorities of which services we need to cover first,” she said.

The equitable solutions for rural health suggested by the study were; protecting minimum staffing levels, protect health care for most vulnerable, invest in retention strategies and improve efficiencies. 

“These will require close co-operation between relevant government departments if they are to fulfil their roles in achieving equitable rural healthcare,” said Rensburg.

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@yethudlamini

The Star