“The problems are not new, they have existed for over a decade and they are fixable if the Department of Health engages with civil society,” said Vuyokazi Matiso of the Treatment Action Campaign and Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition.
(Images: Keshina Thaver)
• Dr Petrus de Kock
Brand South Africa
+27 11 712 5000
Community members, government leaders and health activists and professionals held a stimulating debate at Brand South Africa’s inaugural Play your Part/Sowetan Dialogue in East London on Wednesday 20 November 2013.
The dialogue focused on health issues in the Eastern Cape. The dialogue’s panel included the head of the province’s health department, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, Brand South Africa research manager Dr Petrus de Kock, Vuyokazi Matiso of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition, Dr Nombasa Mayeko of the Rural Doctors Association of Southern Africa (Rudasa), Eastern Cape Democratic Nurses Organisation South Africa (Denosa) regional chair Luleka Ntlebi, and Eastern Cape Denosa provincial organiser, Sivuyile Sikwe.
The event was sponsored by Brand South Africa’s Play Your Part campaign, in association with the Daily Despatch and Sowetan newspapers.
Members of the audience raised significant issues regarding healthcare delivery in the province, which the facilitator, well-known Mhlobo Wenene FM radio personality Putco Mafani, directed with charm.
While it soon became clear that a number of problems, from staff and medical supply shortages to unpaid staff and failing equipment, still needed to be addressed, community members and panellists alike expressed their appreciation that such a dialogue was taking place.
“This is an important opportunity to talk about the things that affect us in the Eastern Cape,” said the province’s Mbengashe. “We have unique issues we have to address, such as the social determinates like access to water and the use of firewood in homes which affect the health of the population.
“However, I have met some extraordinary people who are doing extraordinary things all the time, and I have met a few people who do not meet the standard, yet the focus is on them.
“I challenge everyone to get the system to work. I am quite willing to work with anyone who has constructive ideas to improve the health system, especially for those without a voice,” Mbengashe said.
Working with the Department of Health
But Mayeko of Rudasa said it was not possible to talk about solutions without addressing the problems first, and a critical step in finding those solutions was for all the health organisations to work together with the Department of Health.
“Doctors need leadership to meet their promises, not just to make them,” Mayeko said. “The harsh treatment of doctors leads to them leaving the province and this means that the people who need them the most are at risk.”
She said the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition needed to be listened to because they were able to voice solutions coming from the community. She asked Mbengashe to take note and allow the coalition to help the Department of Health improve health services in the province.
“The problems are not new. They have existed for over a decade and they are fixable if the Department of Health engages with civil society,” said Matiso of the TAC and Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition.
“In all of our attempts to engage with government, this is the first opportunity the coalition has had to directly address the Department of Health. We want Dr Mbengashe to know that we are willing to work with government if they give the coalition a chance.”
Mbengashe responded by reiterating that he was happy and willing to work with anyone wanting to work with health services.
“My door is always open, but we have to all come together to work on a constructive way forward,” he said.
One of the audience members, Dr Nozipho Jaxa, asked Brand South Africa’s De Kock if he could take positive stories and show the public that even though doctors and nurses worked under stressful conditions, they were still doing incredible work under the circumstances.
“I am very passionate about the Eastern Cape,” Jaxa said. “I was born here and I train doctors all over the province, and I see what wonderful work is being done.”