While Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang made it clear in her R8,38-billion Budget speech today (13 May) that the decision to provide anti-retroviral drugs in the public sector rested with Cabinet, her speech contained other good news.
Government has finally decided to set aside R500-million to recruit and retain rural health professionals, for increases in allowances and salaries. It plans to effect the increases by 1 July. By 2005/6, this figure will increase to R1-billion.
Professor Steve Reid of the University of Natal’s Rural Health Deaprtment described the move as “very, very welcome and long overdue”. Allowances had not been increased for the past nine years, added Reid, but said it was still unclear whether professional nurses and rural clinics would be included.
However, the Health Systems Trust (HST) described the allocation as “a necessary but insufficient response”, advocating instead for “a more holistic approach to retention of staff” including “human resource planning, appropriate training strategies and (improved) working conditions”
Some R717-million is being spent on the revitalisation of hospitals and equipment this year, a figure that also increases to R1-billion in two years’ time. Improvements include the building of 18 new hospitals and the improvement of a further nine.
The minister also announced free healthcare for those permanently disabled and without medical aids, including those whose disability were the result of old age or mental impairment. The assistance would include “free devices” such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, with R30-million set aside to cover these.
This year, R809-million has been set aside for the Primary School Nutrition Programme, and increase of R217-million from last year.
Turning to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, Tshabalala-Msimang said while her Budget vote dealt with R664-million there was a further R1.1-billion in equitable share that had been allocated to provinces to address the “twin epidemics”.
She cautioned that only 66.6% of TB patients were completing their treatment but that the department aimed to increase this to 85%.
Addressing HIV treatment, the minister said that regardless of whether anti-retroviral drugs were introduced or not, “three absolutely critical factors are good health infrastructure, adequate numbers of knowledgeable health workers and the availability of affordable medicines”.
The HST said the “limitations in effectively addressing TB and HIV/AIDS” hinged on “the continued lack of a comprehensive strategy (including governments decision on ARV’s); the need to strengthen provincial planning and management capacity in order to implement effective programmes and interventions; and persistent inequities between provinces”.
Cabinet would consider the special task team’s report on HIV treatment “in the very near future”, the Minister told Parliament.
The report is being presented to an extended SA National AIDS Council meeting, which includes the Treatment Action Campaign, on Saturday.
For the full budget speech, click here