Health Journalism: Undoing the Impacts of the Apartheid System

Preventative medication, data management, and a focus on social issues can play a role in improving the healthcare industry in South Africa says a group of experts, at a panel discussion today in Johannesburg.

Paula Fray moderated the discussion titled “Health and health care in South Africa".

The discussion included experts Laura Lopez Gonzalez - Deputy Editor at Bhekisisa, Edson Taruva - Community Manager at Anova Health Institute, Thabo Molelekwa - Journalist at Health-e news and Nneile Nkholise, a professional mechanical engineer.

“The South African health system has a rough past experienced from apartheid and this has affected the ecosystem in providing for health services. South Africa is a hub for job opportunities in the continent and due to that there is pressure in the health system as it becomes overburdened.” says Taruva.

Molelekwa said the delivery of health care services remains a problem especially in rural areas. “In the Eastern Cape people travel about 400km to receive health care treatment and I am hoping the introduction of National Health Insurance (NHI) can change the situation. In some instances, people have never seen an ambulance.” Molelekwa said.

Nkholise said apartheid contributed immensely to who can receive proper and quality health care. "Currently, in South Africa you have about five million people, less than ten percent of the population who can access proper healthcare. There is no access to water, shortage of beds in hospitals and shortage of doctors and specialists. There is also shortage of quality healthcare support within the system." Nkholise said. “The emergence of technology will allow us to bridge the gap between private and public sector. We need quality medication that can respond to the patients’ needs and technology that can detect diseases earlier.”

Nkholise said that our healthcare system cannot keep proper data of patients. "You go in healthcare facility and you find lots of paper work this is due to the system not adapting to the technology."

A key flaw identified in the industry was the focus on diseases and not the underlying factors. "The social determinants experienced in the health system and our clinics are focused on medication rather than social ills faced by communities," said Taruva.

Lopez said that South Africa spends the same as the US in terms of health budget, but yet provision of healthcare services lacks in the country. "The resources and the high levels of disease in South Africa is a burden for the budget. If you have stronger primary health care system, it becomes very easy for one to deal with the problem at an early stage."

Nkholise said we have a biotechnology and biomedical that is not supported by the healthcare system. "More collaboration is needed for technology to function but there is progress. We need to have engineers who need to be part of the healthcare system."

Experts concluded by saying that providing solution to the problems in the healthcare requires having a strong health care system that promotes training, mentorship and access to health.

The discussion was facilitated by frayintermedia on behalf of students from North-Western University in Chicago, United States, as part of programmes for their Engineering and Public Health Students.

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