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Healthcare dilemma in South Africa

08 May 2012, 07:00

In most developed countries patients with  life-threatening illnesses are given their treatment  within the certain allotted time. Usually a Category "A" patient will wait around 8minutes for paramedics to arrive on the scene in about 79% of the time. A Category "B" patient or a non life-threatening situation could take up to 19minutes around 98% of the time.

Still a Department of Health spokesman in one European country said this:"We often see an increase in demand for ambulances during the winter season and this year is no different. Our Health Service is coping well with this increased demand. We have done a lot of work in recent years across the country to share the best practice. Our staff are working hard and doing great work to respond to the extra demand."

South Africa,a NIC country,had its health system modernise in the year 2000,yet rural area health care is getting worse, not better, with each and every passing day. Currently our infant mortality rate is 6 times higher than in the OECD countries. About 5.5 million South Africans have HIV/AIDS or 10.6% of South Africa's total population with 17% of the adult population that lives with this dreadful illness. Most of them live in rural South Africa. Death rates from these are extremely high. But what else adds to such a burden?

Apart from the high burden of infectious diseases,a lack of much needed medicines and essential medical equipment,incompetent management you'll also find that there is a chronic shortage of qualified doctors and nurses which makes the country's situation much worse. Currently South African medical staff  and other public servants working abroad or outside South Africa would have brought in $14billion annually in revenue towards the South African economy. Imagine how many more healthcare facilities,treatment equipment,ambulances and personnel that would've produced looking after the sick and infirm! 

On average HIV/Aids patients living in rural areas of South Africa need to travel 96kilometers or 60 miles to get to his/her nearest medical facility. Pathetic really. No wonder these patients bodies collapse or give up before they even reach the gates of a hospital. Then there is the small matter of the actual medical facility itself and the state its in.Zithulele for example is a hospital in rural South Africa and yet this hospital has no intensive care unit and not even a damn ambulance to begin with.

In Europe you wait 19 minutes for an ambulance give or take,in South Africa its 12hours if you happen to be living in rural South Africa. That is to say even if it bothers to show up! Ben Gaunt,a hospital head doctor,recently said:"When an ambulance comes, it rarely has paramedics, because there’s a huge shortage of paramedics here...Because of circumstances like these, people whose lives should have been saved sometimes die."

Health Care monitor groups like the Health Consumer Powerhouse Ltd (HCP)consistently rate South Africa’s public health sector among the worst in the world. That is despite the fact that the South African ANC Government spend $13.3billion each year on their health service. And that is one of the biggest expenditures in the developing world.

In some countries medical staff have said that they've never seen an HIV/Aids patient in their life ever. In South Africa they like a swarm of bees and that's shocking.TB,diarrhoea,Aids,infections, skin diseases, cholera, dysentery, typhoid in South Africa currently accounts for 24% of the global case problems. About 6 in 10 people with TB in South Africa have HIV/Aids. Usually the victims live in overcrowded shacks in which TB gets spread easily as it is an airborne disease. This situation is not as bad in more affluent areas of South Africa where medical treatment are better than it is in rural slum areas.

The ANC government is to blame for all this as medical care facilities in rural areas are run by very bad management, administrative inefficiency and poor planning put in place by them. And that's all because the ANC lives in a parallel universe than the rest of ordinary South Africans. Rural health specialist Dr. Ben Gaunt said:"You have people in hospital management who just don’t know the first thing about their job. It's disastrous...there are a lot of people who just don’t do their jobs and there’s no recourse and no evaluating of that, and I think that creates resentment and frustration."

The South African National HIV Survey estimated that on average 1,000 AIDS deaths occur in a single day in South Africa. Hospitals are so dirty in that they don't even have enough staff to clean or wash feces from the linen. Some hospitals don't even have enough porters to take dead bodies down to the morgues. Which means hospital patients have to lie next to a bed with a dead body in it for several hours or a whole night before it gets removed!

More 70% of South Africa's medical staff work in private health care facilities. In many developing countries like ours you'll have 1 doctor for every 3,707 to 49,118 of their citizens. In the developed countries its 1 doctor for every 242 to 539 of its inhabitants. What a huge gap that is. Life expectancy in the developed world is therefore 73 years of age whereas in developing counties its around 49years of age.

How do you see health care in the area where you live? Is it one of two things:(1) available but not affordable and (2) affordable but not available.Vandaar magazine once wrote:"Unaffordable health care is like a luxury item in a mall, affordable health care is more like a low-cost item for which hundreds of elbowing customers are reaching for at the same time."

Flour,rice or bread can be dished out in a bag by a volunteer worker,but good health cannot unfortunately. And that's because health is a condition and not a commodity. We cannot prevent a sickness, but we should be able to control it through self-care. Our health gets shape by certain factors. These are (1)our own behaviour, (2)our environment, (3)the medical care, and (4)our biological makeup.

Behavioural choices influence our health. A clean environment can significantly break down health hazards. Lack of good personal hygiene attracts flies,lice and all kinds of unwanted flith.Poor hygiene means our health breaks down. The World Health Organization has shifted its stance from disease control to health promotion by educating people in the prevention and controlling of diseases. Through proper nutrition, safe water, and basic sanitation programmes,the world is a lot healthier these days than it was say 20 years or so ago.

A good health-care system should be based on a medical approach to our health. So far too many of us have wrongfully medicalized our society’s problems. Suicide, malnutrition, and drug abuse have all now become medical problems. They are not even health problems but they are social problems with health and medical consequences. Whether or not a future South African government will realize the importance of all that only time will tell.

References: -spend-most-on-health-care/#ixzz1u87CIX2,by Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale.

2.Voice of America.

3.The South African Medical Association.

5.Awake magazine November 2005.

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