Many South African citizens heavily rely on the public health sector for all their healthcare needs. Due to other factors affecting our economy, a lot of people in this country aren’t able to afford premium medical care from private clinics, doctors and hospitals. In 2020, it was recorded that out of the 59 million South Africans, 49 million rely on public healthcare facilities. Even before the pandemic, you could look at any public hospital or clinic in this country and find a lot of challenges such as:
- Lack of resources (both human and machinery).
- Limited space (and beds), malpractice and bad service.
- Burnout from healthcare workers.
- Strikes and protests.
In this article, we will take a look at the impact of Covid-19 on the health sector, how healthcare and essential workers handled and are still navigating this trying time, and how to improve healthcare in South Africa.
Every Life Matters
The population of South Africa was estimated to be around 60,14 million by mid-year 2021, an increase of about 604 281 (1,01%) since mid-year 2020. The latest mid-year population estimates, 2021 released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), show that the Covid-19 pandemic impacted mortality and migration in the country since the start of the pandemic early in 2020. South Africa experienced both peaks of deaths in the first and second waves of the pandemic within the period between July 2020 and June 2021. This resulted in a significant increase in the crude death rate from 8,7 deaths per 1 000 people in 2020 to 11,6 deaths per 1 000 people in 2021. The significant rise in deaths in 2021 (approximately 34%) meant a drop in the 2021 life expectancy at birth for South Africa.
These statistics have placed pressure on South Africa’s health department to curate solutions on how to give people better access to good medical care. The department of health in South Africa has also asked for neighbouring countries and NGOs such as the World Health Organisation to assist in providing resources to help manage the Covid-19 pandemic and death rates. At the start of 2021, the country saw groups of healthcare professionals being sworn in the country to help fight this disease.
Lockdown Leveled It Out
Challenges facing the healthcare sector in South Africa have been visible over the years and are now elevated more due to the pandemic. During the first moments of the virus being declared a global pandemic, hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities had to put other medical responsibilities aside and prioritise the managing and treatment of Covid-19. Within weeks, there was already a visible backlog, pushed operations, exhausted professionals, to name a few.
Thankfully, lockdown received an immediate revamp, with the government proposing and initiating different lockdown levels to manage the spread and treatment of the virus. As restrictions were put in place, more and more South Africans weren’t able to be mobile, which meant there was minimum risk.
This kind of approach earned South Africa a name for itself worldwide as other countries were inspired by the work we do. Healthcare in South Africa may have received a huge awakening that forced us to take a better look at structures in place, and this is important as we do not know what other health crisis awaits us and if we will be able to manage it.
Better Days Start With Better People
We may argue that some of the challenges facing the health sector in South Africa are because of our healthcare professionals; however, they can’t completely be blamed.
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in the public sector in South Africa struggle with challenges such as large demands and little supply of resources and tools. Production and importing of medication is another hindrance our professionals face as this makes it difficult to treat patients and the long hours with little pay exhausts them too.
With proper motivation, upskilling and awarding qualified people the positions they deserve, we stand a better chance at improving the state of our health department in this country.
With the help of private sectors, development finance institutions and investors that care about the well-being of our healthcare workers as well as afford them the right pay, working hours and conditions in order for them to deliver their best care to patients.
Many sectors were affected by the pandemic; that is an unignorable fact. However, the health sector may have been one of the few industries that felt the hard blow of this virus as it is the sector in charge of managing this virus first hand. With the right support and backing from the government and other sectors, we stand a better chance at providing the current healthcare professionals with the right tools, and inspiring more and more young people to become part of the healthcare industry. And once one sector improves, it will become easier to work on others. The trick is to go at it one at a time.