The World Health Organization- country office for South Africa in partnership with the National Department of Health (NDoH) organized the "National Colloquium on Universal Health Coverage in South Africa" to commemorate the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day 2019 in Johannesburg on 12th Dec.
Observed under the theme 'Keep the promise', the Colloquium followed on the ‘Political Declaration on UHC that was agreed by Heads of the States at the United Nation’s High-Level Meeting (UN-HLM) on UHC during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2019. The President of South Africa HE C.M Ramaphosa also signed this UHC political declaration, thus demonstrating his strong vision and commitment to ensuring UHC for the people of South Africa. Through UHC political declaration, UN Member States also recognized the importance of universal health coverage in achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals”.
South Africa’s UHC day colloquium provided a great opportunity to reinvigorate the policy efforts to work in collaboration and partnerships for achievement of the ‘right to the access to healthcare” in South Africa as the country embarks on health systems reforms towards UHC. It brought together all key stakeholders to reemphasize the key UHC principles and discuss the means to move forward collectively on the UHC promises. Nearly 120 delegates from the national and provincial departments of health; Non-Government organizations; civil society and patient groups, the private health sector; and various labour unions the UN agencies, academia and development partners participated in this half day event.
The colloquium saw high levels of political leadership and participation including from Honorable Health Minister and Deputy Minister, Gauteng provincial minister of health, as well as the Chair of the Parliamentary Portfolio committee on Health and members of Parliament. Global leaders and experts from WHO, World Bank and other agencies shared video messages.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti- in her video message congratulated the Government of South Africa for great commitment and leadership for UHC which she mentioned is also a top priority for WHO in the region “In South Africa, National Health Insurance can be the vehicle for UHC. Strong health systems, built on the foundation of people-centred primary care and providing good quality services are the best investment to improve the health of populations, reduce inequalities and improve financial protection. Social solidarity however is critical – the rich and healthy need to cross-subsidize the poor and sick.” She said in her address
As the world was commemorating the Universal Health Coverage Day, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, reminded the country of the government’s commitment to ensure every citizen, everywhere in the country, has access to quality healthcare without suffering financial hardship. He mentioned that South Africa is committed to achieving UHC through the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI). In fact, UHC is the top health priority of the Government, with leadership coming directly from the President himself. “NHI is intended to move South Africa towards UHC by ensuring that the population has access to quality health services and that it does not result in financial hardships for individuals and their families. The NHI is therefore designed to fund quality and affordable health services so that everyone who needs access to health care can receive it regardless of their ability to pay for these services.
Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the chairperson of the National Assembly’s Health Committee mentioned that while there are some sceptics of NHI, the large masses support and are asking for its urgent implementation so that ‘Health for All’ could become a reality
Dr Brian Chirombo, speaking on behalf of WHO country office emphasized the need to work collaboratively and move together to ensure that the promises for achieving UHC are kept. “WHO South Africa, together with the UN family, is committed to continue supporting the South Africa government and partners to keep the promises”.
There was a strong support for the UHC from all sectors including the health workers, civil society, labour unions, patient groups, health professionals and development partners. All UHC advocates, health agencies, citizens and partners came forward to support the Government efforts in keeping the promises and moving towards actions- to guarantee health as a right, not a privilege.
The Minister of Health led the key stakeholders to a 10-point UHC day pledge towards accelerating move towards UHC where all people -regardless of gender, race, religion, citizenship, age, ability, sexual orientation, or wealth are able to access quality health care they need, without facing financial hardship. Important aspects included commitment to the UN political declaration, the Sustainable Development Goals in particular target 3.8 and establish a strong, equitable health systems that truly leaves no one behind.
On the sidelines of the colloquium Dr Owen Laws Kaluwa, the new WHO Representative to South Africa met with the Minister of Health Dr Zwelini Mkhize, the deputy Minister Dr Joe Paahla, the acting Director General Dr Anban Pillay and the NDoH team. The Minister Dr Mkhize warmly welcomed Dr Kaluwa and acknowledged WHO’s critical technical support to the national Government in facilitating the Universal Health Coverage related reforms. Dr Owen Kaluwa assured Dr Mkhize for reinvigorated collaboration between WHO and NDoH to further accelerate progress in implementing the Health systems reforms aimed at UHC and National Health Insurance in South Africa under his leadership.