Government is looking for collaboration with the private health sector that goes beyond the profit motive, President Thabo Mbeki told the more than 600 delegates at the National Health Summit in Sandton on Monday night.
He said the gap in health spending between the private and public sectors was enormous and was, inevitably, a reflection of the gulf that existed in terms of income and wealth between the impoverished majority and the privileged minority in South Africa.
“Only a few countries in the world exceed this inequality and it represents one of the gravest threats to the stability of our young democracy. Every action that bridges the gap, every measure that puts the brakes on the further marginalisation of the poorest among us helps us to build our future and sustain our democracy,” Mbeki said.
He said that in this context, principled partnerships between private health care providers and public health services took on a wider meaning.
“We believe that many of these partnerships should fall into the realm of social responsibility rather than routine business.”
Despite saying that the collaboration needed to go beyond the profit motive, Mbeki said there would always be a place for straight business transactions.
Mbeki steered away from tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but said the need for partnerships had been brought sharply into focus by the better understanding of the burden of disease in South Africa.
“In common with the rest of Africa, we are experiencing an upsurge in the communicable diseases strongly associated with poverty and underdevelopment – AIDS, TB and malaria.”
On the issue of improved access to health care, Mbeki said Government could clearly say it had expanded services to many marginalised communities.
“I am convinced we have improved the platform for the delivery of basic services, without which the attainment of good health would remain a pipe dream.”
Mbeki said he knew that much more needed to be done, both in the health sector itself and other crucially related areas.
“If we misled ourselves into thinking otherwise, this year’s cholera outbreak (in KwaZulu-Natal) would have served as a salutary reminder of our unfinished work.”
He said that as a consequence of the outbreak, Cabinet, in its mid-year Lekgotla committed to accelerate the programme for universal access to sanitation and safe water.
Despite all the gains, Mbeki said there was a still a very real sense that the country stood poised at a critical juncture. “Further reinforcement of the progress we have recorded is critically necessary. Imagination and commitment are required to overcome some of the persistent obstacles to better health care,” Mbeki said.
Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang assured Mbeki earlier in the evening that the summit had not been convened because the health system was about to collapse.
“These here are ready to soldier on,” she said.
The Health summit ends today (tues).
– Health-e News Service