'Rural areas deserve fair healthcare'

Russell Rensburg of the RHAP said the introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme should be used as a radical turning point to assist rural communities.
Russell Rensburg of the RHAP said the introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme should be used as a radical turning point to assist rural communities.
Image: STOCK

SA has an opportunity to invest more resources into rural healthcare, despite trying economic times.

This is according to a report by the Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) titled Protecting Healthcare in Times of Economic Crisis.

The report seeks to establish how other countries with a similar socio-demographic profile, including Brazil, Colombia and Rwanda, have managed to cope despite harsh economic restraints.

RHAP director Russell Rensburg said SA was in a daunting phase of economic austerity which began with the global recession in 2008.

Rensburg said these conditions would prevail in the short and medium term, but the situation presented an opportunity for a fair distribution of resources.

"Rural communities comprise about 40% of the country's population of 57.8-million but, historically, these areas are the last to be considered when it comes to health provision by national, provincial and local authorities.

"This means that the 20-million people in rural areas are generally out of sight, so out of mind."

He said introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme should be used as a radical turning point in terms of how resources are distributed.

"SA is at a crossroads with the introduction of the NHI, which will have to be funded.

"Built into its rollout and operational structure must be an adequate focus on facilitating the rightful equitable provision of healthcare to rural areas," Rensburg said.

The report proposes a funding model which requires different stakeholders, including government, NGOs, businesses and international donors, to work together.

According to the report, the SA government had made concerted efforts to increase on healthcare expenditure throughout the years with the budget having doubled between 2001 and 2016.

The report states that Colombia was the best example of a middle-income country which implemented legislative reforms and achieved health coverage for 96% of the population by 2015.

Rwanda on the other hand was coping by using the services of community health workers to provide access to maternal and child health services to areas with limited
resources.

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