Johannesburg - Kelly du Plessis’s message couldn’t be any clearer.
“We need change,” she says when asked about South Africa’s fragile healthcare system.
While du Plessis agrees that South Africa is blessed with skilful health workers, she admits that there is a desperate need for a transformation of the country’s healthcare system.
“In my view, our system is overly complex, propelled by the wrong drivers, with a dichotomy between the two sectors that is often difficult to acknowledge. However, we have people with great knowledge and passion, and passion can do a lot of things.”
With that in mind, du Plessis has been hard at work in the last few months developing a campaign that she hopes will help in improving South Africa’s healthcare system and that will give a voice to all healthcare users in the country.
The CEO and founder of Rare Diseases South Africa recently launched the #DearMinisterOfHealth campaign, which has been created to facilitate, access, and reform South Africa’s healthcare system, using the people's voice as the guide.
“The campaign is intended to be a civil society engagement tool where the topics and narratives are guided by healthcare users on the ground and not politics,” said du Plessis.
“Many South Africans (both public and private) experience challenges accessing healthcare services daily, which go unnoticed and without any appropriate action being taken.”
The campaign, which was launched in June, will facilitate self-advocacy, generate debate, monitor the implementation of health policies and highlight specific shortfalls in implementation, and will also offer patients and healthcare users the opportunity to unite, speak up, collaborate and voice their issues to help leverage change in healthcare in South Africa, said du Plessis.
“The campaign was launched as a result of a particular challenge that many private healthcare used experience when disputing medical aid decisions,” said du Plessis.
“Our council for medical schemes is the delegated regulator and unfortunately due to their own capacity and resource constraints are no longer able to provide the regulatory authority required to mandate medical schemes accordingly.
“Since launching this campaign, we have received numerous examples of the systemic failures of the Council as the regulator, and our first project within this campaign is to engage with the minister to provide the necessary resources required for the Council to do its job effectively.”
While Rare Diseases SA is currently the custodian of the campaign, the intention is for it to cover all healthcare users, said du Plessis.
“Due to the challenges, barriers and complexities in the rare disease space, our community is very often affected by failings in the system, but the solutions and engagement need to be for the country as a whole. As everyday South Africans, we needed a place where we could report healthcare system failures in a manner that would drive change.
“Our ability as citizens to engage appropriately with our government should not be defined on political affiliations or authority. It is our intention that this campaign will become a primary engagement tool for healthcare users to engage with decision-makers on service delivery issues and shortcomings.”
Du Plessis added that there were many pressing issues that needed to be addressed by the health sector.
“Medical schemes abuse of a regulator who has essentially lost their teeth, accessing appropriate medications timeously - numerous delays continue to exist with drug registration within the country.
“The referral processes within the system and the current barriers in terms of accessing appropriate services, as well as skills shortages and availability of appropriate posts.”
The campaign has been founded on research-based evidence, civil society alliance-building, and effective engagement with policymakers, said du Plessis.
“For a long time, we have been working alongside other civil society groups and engaging government on healthcare delivery. The presidential health compact was one such example. However, the discussions and feedback following many interactions with government directly, become political.
“Whilst we understand that politics is fundamental for our democracy, it cannot be a barrier to finding better solutions on the ground. We acknowledge that the NHI system is the intended solution for the reform, however, we also need to address the current issues in a parallel process. We cannot tell people who are dying today to hang on in the hopes that the proverbial tomorrow will be better.
Du Plessis knows that she and her team face a mammoth task, but are ready for the challenge.
“The hard work has come from the decade of being on the ground, understanding the system, and building the necessary networks that have brought us to this point. Going forward, the challenge will be driving accountability and ensuring that progressive realisation materialises.