SA healthcare system unequal, elitist and exploits workers, report suggests

Image: DANIEL BECERRIL

The Covid-19 outbreak has shone the spotlight on the ill-treatment, poor compensation of overworked nurses and community healthcare workers (CHW).

This is contained in a report by civil society organisation, Oxfam SA and the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) titled “The right to dignified healthcare work, A right to dignified healthcare for all” — which was released on Tuesday.

In a joint media statement on Tuesday, Oxfam SA, YNITU, the Nation Union of Public Service & Allied Workers, National Union of Care Workers of SA, Treatment Action Campaign, South African Federation of Trade Unions, said nurses and CHW deserved to be treated better.

“When will we act on the realisation that community healthcare workers who are risking their own lives to save our lives by tracing, testing and monitoring the virus, are among the most exploited?

“Their work helps to contain the pandemic, but they do not get medical aid for themselves and their households, earn a meagre R3,500 a month if they are lucky, and are hardly ever reimbursed for transport when carrying out their work.

“They are the foot soldiers charged with resuscitating a society and economy on the brink of collapse, by helping to contain the virus. Derided as 'volunteers' despite their long working hours, they are at the mercy of criminals as they do their community visits, subjected to insecure contracts, and excluded from protections such as the Compensation for Occupation and Injury Disease Act which gives relief to someone harmed in the line of duty, a highly likely event given their responsibilities and circumstances.”

They described the SA healthcare system as “unequal and elitist” and demanded that carers should be cared for. They launched the #Care4Carers campaign, asking citizens to back it.

The ever more expensive South African private healthcare system is available only to 16.4% of the population. They said 72.9% of the white population has access to medical schemes, compared to only 9.9% of the black population. Thus, private healthcare facilities exclude most of the black population.

“This profit-driven private healthcare sector has been financially supported all the while through medical tax credits that serve a few. This combination has resulted in unequal resource distribution within the system. In the public sector, one nurse serves 200 patients and one community health worker serves 101 households; meanwhile 70% of the country’s doctors are in the private sector.”


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