As we stand facing the 2024 elections, it is imperative we confront one of the most pressing issues affecting our nation – the state of healthcare.
Our healthcare system is undeniably fractured, with the burden disproportionately borne by those who can least afford it. Access to quality healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege reserved for the few.
Yet, the harsh reality is that many South Africans face barriers to accessing essential medical services. Long waiting times, insufficient facilities and disparities in healthcare provision are persistent challenges that demand urgent attention.
Presently, several worrisome aspects demand attention, including the escalating mental health crisis, a surge in HIV/ Aids cases, the inadequacy of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal and the inadequate allocation of resources in hospitals.
The mental health crisis in South Africa came into the spotlight in 2016 with the Life Esidimeni scandal, which exposed severe mistreatment and neglect of mental health patients. Shockingly, more than 140 patients died.
Families were left uninformed and patients endured appalling conditions, highlighting the urgent need for reform and accountability in mental healthcare.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as research reveals a concerning statistic: only one in 10 South African children with diagnosable and treatable mental health issues can access any form of mental healthcare.
Disturbingly, Gauteng alone has reported 40 alleged pupil suicide-related deaths this year.
Heartbreaking instances, such as the suicide of an 11-yearold Grade 5 pupil from Anzac Primary School in Brakpan and the case of a Grade 9 pupil from Kgatoentle Secondary School underscore the urgency of addressing mental health issues among children within the educational system and society.
The HIV/Aids crisis
While we may have thought the HIV/Aids crisis was over, the National Aids Council reports KwaZulu-Natal youths aged 15 to 24 contribute about 1 300 new infections weekly.
This alarming rate of new infections underscores the department of health’s grievous neglect in implementing effective HIV/ Aids education and awareness programmes.
This surge in infections in KwaZulu-Natal serves as a pressing call for immediate action. This action extends to all aspects of public health, as in May, Hammanskraal experienced a cholera outbreak.
The department of health confirmed the first case on 15 May and by 27 May there were 77 confirmed cases, with 23 fatalities, predominantly among children under five. The outbreak was linked to a contaminated water supply, polluted by sewage from a nearby informal settlement.
Despite the department of water and sanitation’s awareness of the contamination, no action was taken to address it. This was a preventable tragedy, exposing a lack of basic sanitation and governmental failure to safeguard citizens.
The incident starkly emphasised the persistent inequalities afflicting South Africa, as well as distinct lack of public health protocols and the ability to implement them adequately. The inadequacy of the NHI Bill further highlights government’s failure to ensure an effective healthcare system.
Rather than prioritising the enhancement of public healthcare, the NHI appears to be a move towards outsourcing essential services to the profit-driven private sector. The neglect extends to fellow Africans living in our country.
In 2022, Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba was caught on camera shouting at a Zimbabwean patient at Letaba Hospital in Tzaneen. The patient seeking medical attention for her child was unfairly accused of illegally using SA health services.
This incident was disheartening, using Africans as scapegoats for a decaying health system, especially as Africa moves towards a visa-free continent, implementing a free trade area and upholding human rights.
The state of our healthcare is a call to action. It is a call to every citizen to register their name and cast their ballot with a keen awareness of the pressing need for change.
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