Indirect references
to recently well-publicised events such as the Mamelodi Hospital incident and
the Alexander shut-down in one of his first, if not first public appearance since his appointment as Minister of Health earlier this month, Dr Zweli Mkhize
has given some indication that he is under no illusion about the tasks ahead in
his newfound position.

The real
problem at the moment, Mkhize told KZN Doctor Healthcare Coalition (KZNDHC) annual
conference banquet guests at the weekend, was an economic situation under strain exacerbated
by inequality. Citing the Alexander shutdown debacle as an example – “people living
in absolute squalor only a kilometre away from the richest square kilometre of
real estate on the continent” – people, he said, just look at this and say “wow,
something has to be done”.

Same, he added,
applied to the country’s healthcare services: ““Having a successful private
sector with a failing public sector hasn’t and doesn’t work. For one to work, the
other has to make a contribution one way or the other.

“There has to
be collaboration, co-ordination and integration between the private and public
health sectors to improve the lives of all South Africans,’ he stressed,
reiterating the theme of this year’s KZNDHC Conference.

Among the
main challenges facing the country’s healthcare services was that people still expected
a lot more than what the country had to offer. Until the economy improved this
would continue to be a problem “for our kids growing up” and on how to cope
with the increasing demands on health services.

“National
Health Insurance (NHI) is fundamental to the problem of inequality and without achieving
this, we won’t be addressing the inequalities.

“The debate
for and against NHI has gone. Concentration must now be on implementation,
starting with what can be done in terms of existing resources,” Mkhize
continued, alluding in particular to the unequal relationship between the public
and private sectors.

“In the
public sector there are a lot of things that have to be fixed and we need to
figure out how this has to be done. Our biggest problem is staff shortages. How,
in the same system, can we find additional resources to match staffing
requirements to meet service needs?”

At this point
he referred to his recent visit to Mamelodi Hospital which he found to be “totally
over-run” with an over-burdened staff complement: “I could only sympathise with
the staff.”

Issues like
these had to be dealt with, but at departmental level, he pointed out, this was
difficult due to strained resources and having to compete in this regard with
other necessities being faced by the country at large: “How do we here,
therefore, find a solution together to deal with these issues?” Mkhize asked.

“There has to
be way to enable our systems, both private and public, to co-operate,
co-ordinate, and be integrated somehow to get to a point where we all invest in
the same system. We are, after all, dealing with the same population, be they
public or private, so somewhere down the line,” the minister urged his predominantly
private sector doctor audience, ”we have to talk more.

“Our doors
are open. Let’s keep talking!”