Experts call for health overhaul

2012-07-04 00:00

ADAPT or die. Such was the prognosis given to the country’s public health system yesterday by a panel of medical experts in Durban.

The gathering at University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville campus drew about 200 delegates under the auspices of the South African Committee of Health Sciences Deans.

Various panellists, all with impeccable credentials in public health, argued for a fundamental change in training graduates to cope with the healthcare demands of the country’s population.

The message was the same all round — break out of silos, share knowledge, focus on primary and district healthcare and train students in rural communities.

Speaking for the national department of health, public health specialist Dr Peter Barron said: “SA as a country punches below its weight in terms of health outcomes.”

Barron compared SA to Brazil, which has since 1990 succeeded in reducing the number of deaths for every 1 000 live births to 20. SA’s birth fatality ratio is 57 per 1 000.

A similar scenario exists with regards to maternal mortality, except that South has seen a rise, rather than a fall, in the last 20 years.

Barron said greater emphasis was now placed on strengthening the district health system where the needs were acute and unique.

Rural health expert Dr Bernhard Gaede said the training of the next generation of medical professionals took into account the country’s social landscape, which is increasingly unequal.

But Professor Richard Slotow of the university’s College of Health Sciences said the same message had been circulating for the last 25 years. “Everybody talks, but we are not one step closer.”

Gaede responded that “moral authority leadership” was needed to transform talk into action.

Professor Vanessa Burch of University of Cape Town spoke of the need for symbiosis, basically getting the various elements of the health system working together.


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