Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has recommitted Government to meeting the challenges of HIV/AIDS by continuing to strengthen and expand programmes across the country and participate in international initiatives.

Delivering the opening address at the National Health Summit in Sandton, the minister said that HIV/AIDS had without question become the most contested area of health care and it had a significance that was felt far beyond the health sector.

But the summit, a broad consultative meeting bringing together 600 delegates representing all significant stakeholders in health, is about more than only the issues surrounding communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Four broad theme areas have been identified:  

– Quality of care which includes issues of clinical effectiveness and issues of good service;

– Human resources for health which spans recruitment, development and management processes;

– Communicable diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS and TB;

– Interactions between the public and private health care sectors, within a transformation agenda.

Three panel discussions will re-examine equity and its impact on service provision, highlight the significance of non-communicable health conditions and throw open to examination the state of public hospitals.

Tshabalala-Msimang admitted that concerns about the quality of care remained real and persistent, despite structural and institutional change.

“Anecdotal evidence of professional behaviour that goes beyond neglect into the realm of outright abuse crops up too frequently for us to dismiss it as unusual. By this I do not mean to suggest that sub-standard practice is the norm – that is certainly not the case. But it occurs too often for us to be complacent.

“It also tends to overshadow the truly outstanding work and singular commitment of some of our health workers,” Tshabalala-Msimang said.

She said Government would be the first to acknowledge that it had made mistakes in its attempts to rebuild the health care system. “At times we have not been sufficiently sensitive to the pressures our decisions have places on those responsible for implementing them in our hospitals and clinics.

“Not all of our interventions have had the beneficial impact we intended and sometimes there have been unintended consequences. However, it is not in the interest of our country for any interest group to celebrate these shortcomings or to withdraw and sulk about them. The challenge is to recognise the problem, to learn from mistakes and to have the courage to change course when this is necessary.”

The minister said it was not necessarily the radical overhaul of policies that would make the biggest differences. “Sometimes it is the practical genius of being able to achieve seemingly small changes that adds enormous value for the service user.”

Commenting on the health summit, Tshabalala-Msimang said delegates approached the   summit carrying a wealth of experience.

“Sometimes it feels more like a burden of experience, so heavy with frustration and fatigue that we are tempted to dump it. To do so would not only be to betray ourselves, but to betray the vision of a free society.

“Our liberation struggle will not truly be won until we have built a nation where every person lives in conditions that are consistent with human dignity. Social transformation is simply another phase of struggle and we can no more abandon it than we could submit to the insult of apartheid.”

She called on delegates to look to leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Albertina and Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Solomon Mahlangu, Lilian Ngoyi and Joe Slovo for inspiration. For all of them, life has been an unremitting quest for a more humane world, a quest that continues until time or strength runs out.”

The summit ends tomorrow (Tuesday). President Thabo Mbeki will deliver the main address at a banquet tonight.


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