Religion and Public Health Symposium

The National Religious Association for Social Development (NRASD) hosted a program on Religion and Public Health on 19 March 2012, at which the SACBC AIDS Office was represented.

Dr Renier Koegelenberg announced that the NRASD has been cleared of any wrong-doing with regard to funding from the Global Fund, and it is hoped that the money owed to sub-recipients of the programme (including the SACBC AIDS Office) will shortly be paid.

Archbishop Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, one of the patrons of the symposium, noted that this was the third consultation in the series called to enhance partnerships between the government and the religious sector around public health. The government, he said, could make use of community based health officers working under the auspices of the different faith communities to address primary health care issues. South Africa has many challenges around health care and it is shocking that many other countries have better health outcomes than we do.

Ms Malebona Precious Matsoso, Director General of Health, outline some of the health challenges being faced around universal coverage, including the fact that there is not one uniform system around public health in the country. South Africa, she noted, has to learn lessons from other countries that have attempted health reform so that maternal and child health can improve, that infant mortality is reduced, that problems are prevented before they happen. She acknowledged that many health services are delivered in Africa by the religious sector. Hospitals need to be governed by competent people, and good governance cannot be over-stressed as key. Challenging questions relate to how heath is financed through multiple funding streams, including donor funding which is drying up. How can stokvels, among eg taxi drivers, help finance health care since the costs of health care need to be distributed? The structures at District level need to be strengthened.

Prof Stephen Hendricks, a pastor and academic (from the University of Pretoria) examined some of the ways in which religious community health care workers can work alongside government. People need to be assisted to take charge of their health, religion can help to transform health care. The church based human capital needs to be marshalled; a high level of voluntarism exists among health care workers in the pews who live in local communities. The universities have a major contribution to make regarding the training of community workers.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health, gave some background to the proposed national Health Insurance it should (rather be  “assurance”, he said).  South Africa carries huge disease patterns around HIV/AIDS/TB, maternal and child mortality, non communicable diseases, and violence and injury. The National Health Insurance is only one point of the Department’s ten point plan to turn health care around in South Africa.  Health care has to be funded differently, with mandatory pre payment needing to be increased, and there being a move away from privatising health.  South Africa and the USA, he said, are the two countries that spend unsustainable amounts on private hospital care.

The delegates welcomed the honest assessment of the situations and challenges faced in the country, and outlined by Dr Motsoaledi and Ms Matsoso. Further work was done subsequent to the symposium on the proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Health and the religious sector with regard to collaboration.