Are we doing justice to our health?

health care
03 Feb 2023

The way of the future is equal access to health care

We look at the state of health care post pandemic, and how we manage the impossible choices many of us make to afford health care.

We all know that we will need medical care at some point in our lives. It’s a fact of having a mortal body. Sometimes that care will be the difference between life and death, or the difference between a slow and painful disease or being able to manage your last days with some comfort.

We also know that access to that all-important medical care is not the same for everyone in our otherwise beautiful country. If you have the money and the support system, you can have some of the best medical minds in the world helping your recovery. If, like the majority of this country, you do not have that kind of money, you will have to make a number of extremely difficult decisions.

Whether it’s the choice between going to hospital or earning a wage, or whether you can just live with whatever pain and discomfort you’re in, or choosing which child should go to the clinic and if you should share the prescription between them (do not share prescriptions-ever), so many of our decisions are based on money rather than our health and wellbeing. We make choices about how healthy we can afford to be, rather than how healthy we have the right to be.

Section 27 of our Constitution states that “the right to health is fundamental to the physical and mental well-being of all individuals and is a necessary condition for the exercise of other human rights, including the pursuit of an adequate standard of living.” While we have covered the difference between what is in the Constitution and what our daily lives actually feel like before, it is especially difficult when it comes to the South African health care system. Years of corruption, mismanagement, and a pandemic that decimated our health care workers, have pushed our hopes for the realisation of that right further and further into the future.

Universal health care for South Africa as proposed in the National Health Insurance Bill, is currently quite far from being a reality. Those who are invested in seeing it come to fruition are working tirelessly to get it moving, however we would need a miracle to see the NHI implemented in the next five years. Building such a system from scratch is a monumental task. It has not even been made in to law yet, though it is on the legislative cards for this year. According to Nicholas Crisp, deputy Director General of the health department, it’s a minefield to navigate setting up a taskforce like this when there is no certainty about its future. They need people to put the system together and see it through to becoming a functional reality, but that is difficult when you can’t promise that they will be given the scope within the law to do it, and then what?

There are no easy answers to these questions. South Africa spends 8.5 % of our GDP on health, which is generous in comparison to many other countries, but it is not making a meaningful difference to the lives of most South Africans, yet. The scale of change that will come when the lessons learned over the years are applied to the proposed overhaul of our country’s public sector will be immense. Many may call that naïve, but in reality, something has got to give. South Africans are a patient lot, generally, but we have had enough of the excuses made for the corruption, mismanagement and strategic ineptitude that has wrecked so much of what we have fought to build.

The generations of South Africans that grew up hearing those excuses are entering the workforce and are not putting up with the same empty promises their parents did. Fewer and fewer will be willing to wait hours to see exhausted doctors in dilapidated clinics, while the evidence of how much better it could be is available on every phone, tablet and TV. More and more, South Africans are taking control of their health, instead of waiting for free care.

The fight for free, quality care will rage on, supported by every human being with a scrap of empathy. Until that day comes, we still need health care. South Africa has almost 80 medical aids with 250 plus different packages and whether we need all of them is up for debate, but they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. This is just as well, because it is these medical aids, hospital plans and medical insurance schemes that allow more South Africans access to private care, lightening the load on the public sector, and helping them to escape making impossible decisions based on money, rather than wellbeing.

Do you find yourself putting off hospital stays because you can’t afford to take time off work? Learn more about the support system of our HealthCare Plan.

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Written by Dr Avron Urison, CEO: HealthCare Plan at Legal&Tax.

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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