Malicious narrative on National Health Insurance cannot go unchallenged

10 March 2019 - 00:02 By Aaron Motsoaledi

That the Sunday Times and its associated publications are against National Health Insurance (NHI) is very clear for all to see. After all, they are no longer doing this in the form of normal reporting but in their editorial comment, affirming their position on the NHI.
In their opposition to the NHI, they are throwing mud from every direction, at every available opportunity, even linking things that are otherwise not connected. Perceived opposition to the NHI by the private sector, undocumented migrants, the presidential war room and many others are put together to prepare a case against the NHI.
The NHI is a flagship programme of the state (and the president of the country stated so on many occasions, including during the state of the nation address), and an international programme of the UN (goal 3.8 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals).
Despite this, the Sunday Times has done it best to caricature the NHI as a pet project of one individual, the minister of health. That the concept of NHI is a resolution of the ruling party - adopted at the Polokwane conference of 2007, further endorsed in 2012 in Mangaung and in 2017 at Nasrec - does not matter to it in its quest to characterise it as an ill-informed project of the minister of health.
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The editorial comment of March 3, "Health minister's diagnosis will keep our health system sick", was so riddled with conjecture, half-truths and plain lies that it would be irresponsible to allow such a malicious narrative to go unchallenged.
The first accusation against me as the minister of health is that I have alienated the private sector and put its existence in doubt. I, as the health minister, have worked very well with various stakeholders in the private sector. Apart from having worked with them very well in the Presidential Health Summit and in the subsequent launch of the summit report, I have also been working very well with the private sector on social responsibility projects for the good of the country.
Since 2013 we have worked together in the Public Health Enhancement Fund (PHEF), whereby the private sector contributes huge amounts of money to help the department build the human capacity of the country. Through this project, we have produced 40 PhDs (90%) and master's (10%). This year and next year, another 35 will graduate, bringing the number to 75. In addition, the PHEF funds medical students from the poorest and most rural parts of the country. A total of 79 are doing internships this year.
We would like the Sunday Times to inform us which particular group in the private sector the newspaper is speaking for, because those who were at the summit and at the launch of the summit report spoke for themselves without being censored by anybody.
The second accusation is to lump together the problems of undocumented migrants and the NHI and shout "xenophobia!" to taint the department in general and the minister in particular, and create an impression that migrants are not being treated in our public health facilities.
In fact, a huge number of them, including pregnant women, receive free treatment in our hospitals and clinics all over SA on a daily basis. We do not understand why an unauthorised circular, issued by a junior official, and which the department withdrew after being made aware of it, should be used as a measure of the position of the department, and in the process drag NHI into the quagmire.
The Sunday Times and its sister publications have persistently, directly or indirectly, questioned the right to exist of the presidential war room, which was established to give direction to the NHI process. In the process, they also demonise the adviser to the president on social and health matters, Dr Olive Shisana, who is in charge of the war room. Sinister, clandestine and irregular activities, which never existed, are invented and blamed on her. They even invented a frosty relationship and poor working relations between Dr Shisana and me. This approach creates the impression that there is secrecy around the NHI and that the presidency has imposed itself on unsuspecting health department officials.
I have come out clearly and repeat here that I am the one who asked the president to take control of the NHI process. NHI is not just a health project, but is a project that seeks to change the direction of the nation and is an equaliser between the rich and the poor. It is bound to affect all government departments and entities. Only the president has oversight over all state institutions.
To tarnish such a structure and subject its activities to innuendo is exactly the same method the newspaper used against a South African Revenue Service unit established in the interests of the country. We are aware that the Sunday Times apologised and withdrew its scathing articles about the unit. We are bound to start doubting the sincerity of the apology in the light of similar methods being applied in its fight against NHI.
• Dr Motsoaledi is the minister of health

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