union BLASTS health and social merger

Kingdom Mabuza and Zinhle Mapumulo

Kingdom Mabuza and Zinhle Mapumulo

The merger of the Gauteng departments of health and of social development has been accepted with some scepticism.

Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane has assigned former MEC for local government Qedani Mahlangu to head the new merged department. While the children's rights organisation Teddy Bear Clinic and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) believe the move could be a sensible one, provided there are logistics and policies in place to make it work, the trade union that organises in the health and social welfare sectors and an Aids lobby group think otherwise.

The National Education, Health, and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) says the merger would hamper the delivery of services, while the Aids Law Project (ALP), which champions the rights of people with HIV, feels it is a disaster in the making.

Nehawu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the challenges faced by both departments separately were huge and would not be addressed with the creation of a bigger department.

"There are a lot of backlogs and challenges. The department of health alone needs focused attention," said Pamla.

He cited the shortage of health workers and lack of access to health care by communities as major challenges faced by the department.

He said the social development department was also struggling to provide for and protect vulnerable communities.

"We are a welfare state and we cannot claim success in protecting the vulnerable in our society. People still do not have access to grants and other means to survive," he said.

Mark Heywood of ALP said: "The Gauteng health department is struggling to provide quality health care to its citizens and it's in debt.

"The social development department also has its hands full with the refugee population they cannot seem to control," he said.

The Gauteng health department is struggling to provide quality health care to citizens and it's in debt

Rebecca Hodes of TAC agreed withHeywood on the challenges faced by the health department and how that might have a negative effect on service delivery.

But she said the merger could be the answer that people with HIV have been calling for.

"It makes sense to combine the departments because they overlap. For example, if a disability grant is to be approved, the applicant needs to undergo several health tests, which often take ages because he or she has to move from one department to the other.

"The merger could speed up the process, provided logistics are in place. We are, however, concerned about the challenges faced by Gauteng health and the effect it may have on the merger," she said.

Lizette Schoombie of Teddy Bear Clinic in Johannesburg said: "The merger could be fantastic if the integration is done correctly. But we are worried that there could be some budget cuts and this will affect non-profit organisations like ours."

Gauteng government spokesperson Simon Zwane said the merger was a well thought out strategy to maximise resources.