The Health Minister position has mostly been controversial, largely because of the country’s less than impressive track record in dealing with the issue of HIV/AIDS. Remember the Sarafina! and Virodene scandals under Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first Health Minister in post-apartheid South Africa? The less said about the shenanigans of her successor, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the better. Barbara Hogan, the third Health Minister since 1994 has inherited a legacy that she does not want to continue ‘ and there is very little time to prove herself. During this period, she says, her main focus is on two priorities.
‘Six months is a short period of time, but there are a number of things that I think need to be done pretty quickly. Obviously, HIV and AIDS is a major challenge. We’re looking at a prevention of mother-to-child programme because there are some health districts where the uptake is pretty low. We’re looking at a campaign around that. The other issue, of course, is the quality of our health care services. All of us know the poor quality, both of our referral hospitals, at district and primary health care levels. For me it is very, very clear that part of the problem is that our health system is not an integrated health system. We have the national Department that sets standards, we have provinces that are supposed to implement, we’ve got districts that do not have control over resources allocated them’.
Hogan concedes that the health system cannot be fixed without addressing the lack of sufficient and high calibre human resources and inhumane conditions under which some health professionals work.
‘I think no one wants to work in an environment that is an unhappy environment. I think it’s extraordinary how people continue to work in hospitals and institutions where there is so much disfunctionality. I think you only keep people in a profession if you give them the wherewithal to perform their duties and their responsibilities in a decent way. In the short term, I think that there’s a number of initiatives. One is engaging with particular unions, DENOSA for example, the nursing association, NEHAWU. And I believe that workers actually want to work in a well-order environment. So, I would want to be engaging with bodies like that to see in what way we can start improving environments within hospitals’.