South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his eighth State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday, 8 February, marking the 30th year of democracy. Despite a struggling healthcare system, he reflected on the progress and challenges remaining in the health sector.
Addressing health issues, particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa reminisced on how South Africans have had to recover from a devastating global pandemic that caused great misery and hardship, closed businesses, and cost jobs.
He highlighted how the country’s determination to fight the virus, support health workers, protect vulnerable populations, and roll out an unprecedented vaccination programme has been instrumental in preventing further damage.
“South Africa stood firm, together, in defence of our constitution and its promise of a better life for all. It was the same determination that enabled the country to endure the devastation of Covid-19, the worst global pandemic in over a century,” he said.
“More than 100 000 South Africans lost their lives to the disease, and two million people lost their jobs. Yet it would have been far worse if we had not acted together as one to stop the spread of the virus, to support our health workers, to protect the most vulnerable, and to roll out an unprecedented vaccination programme. We were able to unite society around a common effort to save lives and livelihoods.”
South Africans are living longer
In his address, he also touched on how social grants and subsidies do much more than give people what they need to live and are an investment in the future.
“Social assistance has been shown to increase school enrolment and attendance, lower drop-out rates, and improve the pass rate. South Africans are living longer than ever before. Life expectancy has increased from 54 years in 2003 to 65 years in 2023. Maternal and infant deaths have declined dramatically. We have also built more hospitals and clinics, especially in poor areas, providing better quality care to more South Africans.”
Improving quality of healthcare through NHI
He also added that new HIV infections among young people have declined significantly. “Today, 95% of persons diagnosed with HIV know their status, 79% of those receive antiretroviral treatment, and 93% of those are virally suppressed.”
While SA’s health system has had a great impact on people’s lives, Ramaphosa explained that the government is working to improve both the quality of healthcare and equality of access by implementing the controversial National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill into law.
“The National Health Insurance will provide free health care at the point of care for all South Africans, whether in public or private health facilities.”
The NHI in South Africa aims to achieve universal health coverage by purchasing healthcare services from public and private providers. Contributing through taxes and special contributions, the governments said the NHI would ensure free healthcare for all, with no facility fees.
“We plan to incrementally implement the NHl, dealing with issues like health system financing, the health workforce, medical products, vaccines and technologies, and health information systems.”
The bill has already been passed by the National Council of Provinces, however, the president still has to sign it.
Disability and GBV
Furthermore, the president mentioned that they have worked to advance the rights of people with disabilities and took great pride in making South African Sign Language the 12th official language of the country.
“We will continue to strengthen our law enforcement institutions, tackle gender-based violence, and fight corruption to make South Africa a safe place for all.”
According to Ramaphosa, this is the South African way of building a social compact working together on tangible issues, and it will be the key to building a new society in the years to come.
“We have come a long way in the last five years. We have built on the achievements of the last three decades, and we have taken decisive measures to address the immediate challenges facing South Africans.”
“As we celebrate 30 years of freedom, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to our constitutional democracy and its promise of a better life.”
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