RUNNING the health system has to be the most challenging job any person can undertake in this country.
Most public hospitals are on the verge of collapse, there is a shortage of clinical staff and equipment. Where there are enough resources management lacks skills.
The man who has been tasked with rescuing our ailing health system, Aaron Motsoaledi, has acknowledged that there are many problems in public health facilities and has promised to fix faults as he goes along.
"We are going to fix the health system of this country," Motsoaledi says. "The next five years will be dedicated to restoring the health system and the public's confidence in it. The change will not happen overnight and people need to be aware of that. We will go forward step by step."
Motsoaledi says the introduction and implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) is one way of trying to rehabilitate the health system.
"There has been a lot of controversy around the NHI," he says. "Many misleading things have been said about it. I know the private sector has been slamming the idea and confusing people about how much it was going to cost them because the government needs a certain amount of money for it to work.
"This is not true. Yes, it will cost billions but not as much as suggested."
The controversial insurance scheme is expected to cost more than R200billion over the next five years, and thereafter about R60billion a year to sustain. The core funder will be the fiscus.
Motsoaledi, a medical doctor, says the NHI is what the country needs if it aims to provide quality health service.
"At present the allocation of resources in the health system is skewed. About 60percent of the health budget goes to the private sector, which services about seven million people, and 40percent to the public sector, which caters for about 38 million people.
"The NHI is going to change this," he says.
Motsoaledi came to office in May when the public health system was in chaos. Doctors and pharmacists were on strike demanding a 50percent salary increase.
The minister had to find a solution to end the strike, which dragged on for more than a month. The unions rejected the first offer he made. After juggling with figures a deal was eventually sealed and doctors returned to work. Motsoaledi was praised for passing his first test.
"We should never again experience a public service doctors' strike," Motsoaledi says. "It is a shame to the profession and the country. Our jobs as doctors is to care for the people first. No matter what problems we are facing we need to put patients first and solve the issues later.
"We admit the issues raised were valid. Doctors are underpaid and work in untenable conditions."
To improve the deplorable condition of public health facilities, Motsoaledi and his team have devised a 10-point plan, the health turnaround strategy. It includes provision of quality healthcare services, implementation of NHI, restoration of the health system and upskilling management.
"We have set short- and longterm goals under the 10-point plan. One is to ensure that quality healthcare services are provided to the people. And the only way to do that is by reducing overcrowding in hospitals. People who have minor illnesses need to go to clinics. The government must recruit and retain healthcare workers," he says.
"There is no reason why patients must wait for hours before they get attention, only to find that there is no medicine. This indicates that somebody somewhere is not doing his job correctly," the Minister said.
Asked why there were still vacant positions in the medical field, Motsoaledi said: "There are no suitable candidates applying for the jobs and those that do feel the money is too little in government."
On HIV-Aids, Motsoaledi says: "We are not winning the battle against the pandemic.
"Though we are leading in antiretroviral therapy, we are still far behind on our target."