President Cyril Ramaphosa, joined by Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla, signing into law the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill. Credit: Kopano Tlape GCIS - Photo: 2024

South African President Backs National Health Plan For All

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | 19 May 2024 (IDN) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is promoting a long-awaited new law that would provide universal health care free of charge for all. It could lead to the biggest shake-up in the health sector since the end of the racist system of apartheid 30 years ago.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has strenuously opposed the president’s plan, calling it the “death warrant” of health care in South Africa. They say the plan could be hugely expensive and fuel corruption.

Most South Africans are not currently covered by any health insurance. Under the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) plan, a state fund would cover the medical costs of all South Africans.

Unlike the British state-funded National Health Service, South Africans would not be free to take out medical insurance to receive any extra treatment they want from private doctors.

The government has not specified the treatments that NHI-accredited private hospitals and GPs would provide but says it will include emergency services, mental health services, palliative care and rehabilitation services.

Currently, the country’s poorest people have access to free treatment at 3,888 public clinics, community health centres and hospitals, but these facilities are often plagued by broken equipment and shortages of medicine and beds.

“Important instrument to tackle poverty”

Ramaphosa calls the NHI an “important instrument to tackle poverty”.

“The rising cost of health care makes families poorer,” he explained. “By contrast, health care provided through the NHI frees up resources for poor families for other essential needs. The NHI will make health care in the country more affordable.”

The timing of the health plan proposal is seen as an attempt to boost the chances of the governing African National Congress (ANC) in the May 29 election at a time when opinion polls suggest the party could lose its outright majority for the first time in 30 years.

“We are going to end the apartheid that remains in health care, where you have the best healthcare for the rich and poor healthcare for the poor,” Ramaphosa said at a rally last month.

John Steenhuisen of the Democratic Alliance said the plan would lead to enormous tax increases with the money deposited into a central fund “controlled by one almighty ANC cadre”.

The government has not spelt out how much people will have to contribute or how much will be required to fund NHI.

Meanwhile, nearly 28 million South African registered voters have the chance to elect representatives to the national and provincial parliaments on May 29.

After the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, the Economic Freedom Fighters is the third largest party in parliament headed by Julius Malema.

Mr Malema’s supporters enjoy the combative rhetoric and he remains an inspirational orator whose sharp focus on the rights of poor black South Africans has earned him their love.

He is especially popular among the youth – a demographic coveted by politicians, who are keenly aware that South Africa’s median age is 28. Mr Malema has also generated a buzz when touring Ghana, Liberia and Kenya, among other African countries.

Prof PLO Lumumba, chair of the Pan-African Institute that hosted Mr. Malema in Kenya last year told the BBC last year: “Malema represents a younger generation of Africans who are now beginning to articulate Pan-African issues in a manner that appeals to critical masses.”

The uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party could make a strong showing in Jacob Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

In a separate case, Mr Zuma has been reinstated as an MK candidate reversing a decision by the electoral commission that he was not eligible because of a prison sentence that he had received for contempt of court.

In a brief manifesto the MK party pledges to transform South Africa, including an aim to create five million jobs. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: President Cyril Ramaphosa, joined by Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla, signing into law the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill. Credit: Kopano Tlape GCIS

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