Zweli Mkhize defends health department budget cuts

25 November 2020 - 17:58
By aphiwe deklerk AND Aphiwe Deklerk
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. File picture.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu Health minister Zweli Mkhize. File picture.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has defended his government for its planned health department budget cuts, as fresh fears of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic surface.

The rise in the numbers of new Covid-19 infections has been evident, with the latest stats, from Tuesday, showing 2,493 new positive cases in a single day. However, most concerning is a positivity rate of upwards of 12%.

Answering a supplementary question during a parliamentary question and answer session on Wednesday from DA spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube, the minister said the challenge facing the government was competing priorities.

He said cuts were projected by the National Treasury and were blamed on weak economic growth.

Gwarube had slammed the cuts, which amount to R680m, saying they were spectacularly shocking.

“This is done during the world's most devastating virus, Covid-19. To add insult to injury, minister [of finance, Tito Mboweni] has indicated that over R10bn will be allocated  to saving an ailing state airline, SAA,” said Gwarube.

She said the decision to make the cuts and fund SAA was made at the expense of filling critical vacancies, building health-care infrastructure and ensuring that provinces such as the Eastern Cape, which is facing a second wave of Covid-19, are not failing people who were dying from the pandemic.

“How can your government justify cutting front-line services at a time like this to bail out an entity that has not been viable for decades while health-care workers are killing themselves to mount a decent response to this pandemic?” said Gwarube.

But Mkhize said he would not deal with SAA because it was outside his department.

“I will just deal with the fact that when the situation was difficult, during the pandemic when it started, we actually made submissions to the national government and the Treasury was able to allocate additional resources to help the department to deal with the crisis as it unfolded.

“That helped us to be able to put up all the field hospitals, put up additional ventilators, prepare for more beds to be available and employ more staff — and this was done with all of these current constraints that are in place,” he said.

Mkhize said the government's competing priorities necessitated rebalancing and reprioritisation of finances.

“In this case, we have been through the difficult time where a number of departments have had funds mobilised from them to actually support the department of health. So I was quite comfortable with the fact that, over that period, we were able to get support to deal with Covid-19,” he said.

The cuts were likely to affect all health programmes in one way or another as they would make it difficult for the department to fund all critical vacant posts and key supplies, given the constraints, said Mkhize.

EFF MP Naledi Chirwa decried the possible effects the cuts would have on the HIV/Aids programme, especially in provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal.