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SAHRC: Govt failing in healthcare provision

Resource type: News

Mail & Guardian |


Government is responsible for the failures in South Africa’s public healthcare system, and needs to address them so that every citizen’s right to access healthcare services is realised, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Thursday.

CEO Tseliso Thipanyane said that while government is to blame for the shortcomings, the SAHRC looks forward to engaging with them post April 22 “for a better future”.

The commission released its report on an inquiry into the country’s public healthcare services, based on visits to about 100 facilities across the country and submissions from the public during May 2007.

The report identified poverty as a major barrier to accessing healthcare services in South Africa. As of 2007, 88% of South Africans are dependant on public healthcare services. The poor make up the majority of this figure, but the report found that their access to these services is severely constrained by transport costs and unacceptably long waiting times at clinics or hospitals.

“These constraints amount to a denial of the right to access healthcare,” said deputy SAHRC chairperson Dr Zonke Majodina.

The report also revealed that inefficient management, lack of infrastructure and human resources, and poor staff attitudes were infringing on citizens’ constitutional right to access healthcare.

Its findings include:

  • Inequalities between private and public healthcare expenditure persists. The private sector consumes R43-billion and services seven million people, while the public sector spends R33,2-billion and services 38-million people.
  • At a management level, communication gaps and poor relationships between departments negatively effect on service delivery.
  • Health personnel are concerned about staff shortages, unsatisfactory salaries and stressful working conditions.
  • Lack of resources has led to overcrowding in facilities, lack of space and privacy, and inadequate pharmaceutical services.
  • Some clinics lack basic communication tools such as telephones, faxes and computers, which prevent staff from fulfilling their duties efficiently.
  • Staff’s attitudes towards vulnerable groups such as women, children, rape survivors, the elderly, refugees, people with disabilities, and gays and lesbians, were discriminatory. This is a huge problem as it effects on these groups’ rights to healthcare.

The SAHRC made various recommendations to improve the public healthcare system. These include continuous training and education of health personnel, improving financial management, strengthening services in rural areas and providing guidelines for the treatment of vulnerable groups.
Dr KS Chetty, the Health Department’s deputy director general, welcomed the report’s findings, and said the department had put initiatives in place to improve health services.

“There are a lot of challenges we still need to address … the Department of Health is committed to our constitutional duty to provide access to health care,” Chetty said.

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