Human health and healthcare under the microscope
Over the past few months, the healthcare industry has become a central focus around the world, with the ongoing spread of COVID-19. To contain the spread of the virus in South Africa, a lockdown period was imposed by our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who, on the eve of 15 March 2020, declared the pandemic a national disaster in South Africa. Such a decision regarding the preservation and protection of South Africans’ health could not have come lightly for the President, due to the profound economic impact and sacrifices that would have to be made during this time.
The dire news of a national lockdown, and the pandemic driving it, quite ironically came on the heels of the recent good news of personal income tax relief in respect of medical aid, as promulgated in the 2020 Budget Speech, which was delivered by Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni. More specifically, the 16–17% of South Africans who are covered by medical aid (according to the Council of Medical Schemes, in their annual report for 2019) are welcoming a 2.8% increase in tax credits for 2021, after members’ medical scheme contributions were increased from January 2020 onward by an average of 8.2%.
This tax relief comes in light of the fact that the President remains positive regarding the successful implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) system, while emphasising that the timeline for implementation will probably differ to what was formerly envisaged. According to the President, the approach towards a comprehensive NHI would be progressive; and he is imploring all South Africans to stand by the government in their drive to ensure access to decent healthcare for all citizens.
While reduced taxes and the ANC’s positive outlook for NHI have become somewhat of a distant memory – now that we are in the midst of our battle against COVID-19 – the current state of affairs of a global pandemic has, however, unequivocally emphasised the importance of overall human health, and access to proper and adequate healthcare. From this perspective, it is clear that 2020 will prove to be a critically important year for healthcare in South Africa: it will act as both an exposition of the gaps in our present system, and also as an incentive for those who are encouraged to lay future groundwork for the NHI. At the very least, we hope to see advances in innovative thinking in our healthcare industry, from both the private healthcare sector and the government.
We can therefore expect the media and commentators to keep a close eye on the upcoming health summits that will be held primarily over the October/November period – starting with the World Health Summit, and followed by the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) and the Healthcare Innovation Summit Africa (HISA).
Over the past five years, South African healthcare professionals specifically have benefited from the developments explored at the WISH summit. This exclusive event focuses on recent innovative technological advancements in the healthcare industry, and emphasises the exciting times in which we are living, in that technological capabilities are allowing us to tackle health problems at a faster rate than ever before. The HISA summit, on the other hand, will collate these new visions from healthcare experts and industry leaders, in order to continually seek solutions for Africa-specific health concerns.
We can expect that COVID-19 and the results of the international response to the pandemic will be key topics at these events. We therefore trust that our healthcare professionals and industry leaders will use this time to reflect on the lessons learned from our experience with this pandemic, so that only the best ideas and action plans are presented, for the sake of current and future reference.
While we continue to play our part in promoting healthy habits and reducing the spread of this virus, whether through the regular washing of hands, and adhering to necessary restrictions on movement and human interaction, we should use this time also to analyse and possibly rethink our approach to health and the healthcare industry as a whole. Our globalised society makes it nearly impossible to focus on any infectious disease on merely a local scale: COVID-19 has shown us that what we do in our immediate contexts will cause a chain reaction and impact on society as a whole. This realisation of our interconnectedness as human beings necessitates a new vision of social responsibility, especially in relation to our health and the healthcare options in our communities.
It is clear that the first year of the 2020s (i.e. the ‘twenty-twenties’) will prove to be a remarkable year – one that will go down in history as the leap year that kick-started a new decade in which human health and the healthcare of societies around the globe were placed very attentively and conspicuously under the microscope. Our hope is that, despite the very real and concerning negative global and national impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 will usher in a newfound appreciation of healthcare, and an elucidation of the approaches that will either be detrimental or beneficial to this crucial industry in our society, going forward.
Article by Suné van Schalkwyk,
Lecturer at the School of Financial Planning and Insurance, Milpark Education
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08 Apr 2020