Barbara Hogan faces the media

ADDRESS TO THE MEDIA BY THE MINISTER OF HEALTH MS. BARBARA HOGAN AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE OF THE 02ND OCTOBER 2008

– PRETORIA

Programme Director

Senior Officials of the Department of Health

Members of the Media.

The last few days have been a hectic period for me, starting with my appointment by the President of the Republic Mr. Motlanthe on Thursday; to being sworn in on Friday; to meeting with the Deputy Minister on Monday, then with the Director-General of the Department on Monday afternoon; to attending my first Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, and being briefed by the Senior Management of the Department on Wednesday morning.

I therefore apologise that it has not been possible to come back to the media earlier.

The President has placed a huge responsibility on me and the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Molefi Sefularo.

Health is about people. It is about serving people. It is about a value system that prioritizes and protects the most vulnerable groups in our society. The caring ethos of our health system are tested by a little infant who is born prematurely, weighing 500 grams, and whose chances of survival depend on how the health system provides care and support for her. Health care service delivery is about being responsive and supportive to a pregnant mother who is about to go into labour, and who is anxious about her own survival and that of her child. Her anticipation of a newborn baby and the joys that it will bring to her life is coupled with the nervousness about whether her journey towards delivery will be a successful one. Health is about ensuring that the future of the youth of our country is not blighted by the scourge of HIV and AIDS.

Health service delivery is about an elderly granny who is diabetic and hypertensive, and who is sustained largely by the chronic medication she receives from her local health facility. Her yearning for more years of life is also influenced by the reception she receives when coming for her regular check up and follow up treatment.   Health care service delivery addresses the needs of a human being throughout the life cycle, and should therefore be humane and caring.

Health service is also about healthcare workers who work under very difficult conditions. They also expect significant improvement in their working conditions.

Since my appointment I have met many people and received many telephone calls, from people who wished me well, and from those who offered their support and advice. I am convinced that the health system of South Africa has many things going well for it. However it is an undoubted fact that there are huge challenges facing the healthcare sector in South Africa. In time to come you will be briefed about these challenges and what we intend doing about them. This is once we have had an opportunity to be briefed by all the stakeholders involved in the delivery of healthcare in our country. For now I wish to single out just two of these challenges and these are:

  • the co-existence of the TB and HIV epidemics, and
  • improving the quality of our services.

Our government has in recent times especially with the support of all the partners made significant strides in providing a vigorous response to the challenge of HIV and AIDS. In this regard the adoption of the NSP for HIV and AIDS and TB and the restructuring of SANAC has been a major turning pointing in our response to HIV and AIDS and TB in our country.

Through our comprehensive plan for HIV and AIDS Care, Management and Treatment Programme, we have initiated the largest number of people on Antiretroviral treatment in the continent and globally. Yet we still have millions of people being afflicted by HIV and AIDS, both the infected and affected.

Our country has seen the human face of this scourge, with many young orphans resulting from the premature deaths of their parents. We have seen many child headed households, which apart from the lack of parental guidance and nurturance, also face the stark reality of poverty. They need hope, hope that rests in the ability, willingness and capacity of their government to continuously provide care, treatment and support.

As government we want to involve all sections of our society, business, public servants, youth, students, and the religious sector in our campaign. It is crucial that we change the behaviour of people who are driving the epidemic.

It is critically important that those who need treatment are able to get it; we must also ensure that there is compliance with the treatment regime that is required. One must at the same time recognize the good work done by SANAC under the leadership of the previous Deputy President and we have no doubt that such good work will indeed continue.

Another significant challenge relates to the multitudes of people living with Tuberculosis as well as those affected by the extreme drug resistant strains, MDR-TB and XDR-TB. We have improved our TB cure rates, increased our capacity to trace TB patients who are lost to the system, and have significantly reduced the TB defaulter rate. However, our TB incidence remains amongst the highest in the world. We need to continue our efforts to provide compassionate and effective services to our patients. In the interests of public health, those with MDR-TB and XDR-TB are hospitalized for a defined period of time, until they no longer pose a threat to their families and communities. We are aware that this disrupts their social and occupational lives of people. This is reality. We need to provide effective and caring services that ensure that patients’€™ experience of their stay in our health facilities is positive.

 My second key area of interest is quality of health care. Most South Africans access health services through the public sector. They expect our health services to be caring, compassionate and passionate. They can no longer afford long queues and extended waiting times at our facilities, nor can they further tolerate being sent from pillar to post prior to being seen by a health worker. We are however encouraged by the pockets of excellence that are there in the public health sector despite the many challenges that co-exist.

We must therefore fast track the implementation of practical ways of improving all the quality aspects of our health services. We will as a matter of urgency, examine all the gaps in delivery, ranging from co-ordination between the different levels of government, to improving management systems, procurement, the filling of unfilled positions and attracting talented South Africans back into the public service.

 

As most in this room would know there have already been practical measures introduced to improve worker morale, including the Occupation Specific Dispensation for nurses. There is work underway to introduce the occupation specific dispensation for other professionals in the sector.

Naturally, the health system must also continue to provide care for the care-givers, the health care providers.   We intend inspiring our staff- especially the heroes of the system who care for our people. We want those in the frontline to be able to rely on our commitment ‘€“ to ensure that they can do their jobs better. Equally, we are going to continue working closely with our provincial health counterparts to ensure the improvement and acceleration of service-delivery.

These are just but two key issues that I will be giving more prominence to in the next few months, together with the Deputy Minister.   We are also involved in broad consultations with the Senior Management of the Department, as well as a broad range of civil society stakeholders.   We will announce the way forward in a few weeks when the consultations have been crystallized into a set of recommendations.

A vibrant media is the hallmark of democracy. I trust that you will work very closely with us, monitoring and reporting on both our best practices and areas where we need to improve.

In conclusion, we wish to make it clear that health is a human right and this is the principle that should continue to guide us especially as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Alma Ata Declaration. To ensure that this does not become just a slogan, we will work closely with the private sector and all other relevant stakeholders to ensure that our work towards the National Health Insurance also becomes a reality.

I thank you all.

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