Medical insurance companies, business organisations and government are developing a programme through which the private sector will help fund the Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines for people not covered by health insurance.
Legislation has been amended to allow the companies to fund shots for people who don’t have medical aid and talks are now focused on the number of those who may benefit, said Stavros Nicolaou, head of the Health Workgroup for Business for SA, a grouping of South Africa’s biggest business organisations.
In addition to medical insurers, companies such as miners may contribute funds so their workers can be covered, Nicolaou said.
“We are looking at a model of some cover for uncovered patients,” he said in an interview on Monday. “For every funded person, there will be a contribution to the unfunded.”
The talks come as government faces increasing criticism by labour unions, health officials and opposition parties for its failure to procure vaccines even as at least 29 nations begin inoculating their populations.
The country has yet to conclude any direct supply agreements with pharmaceutical companies. It expects to begin receiving shots in the second quarter to cover a 10% of its 60 million people through the Covax initiative, which is trying to ensure equitable access to vaccines.
As of 2019, only 17% of South Africa’s population was covered by medical aid, according to Stats SA.
South Africa, with 1.13 million confirmed infections and more than 30 000 deaths, is the nation most affected by Covid-19 on the continent.
Allowing medical insurers or companies to import vaccines solely for their own members or employees could spark tensions in South Africa, one of the world’s most unequal societies.
Government is already struggling to meet a host of economic challenges, with many state-owned companies dependent on bailouts from the budget.
A panel looking into how the programme will work is headed by Adrian Gore, CEO of Discovery Limited, the country’s biggest medical insurance company.
Business is also trying to accelerate the arrival of vaccines in the country, Nicolaou said.
“We need to change the public narrative,” he said. “How do you, if at all, accelerate the timing?” – Bloomberg