Launch of the South African Health Review 2021
The Health Systems Trust (HST), in collaboration with UKZN’s Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division (HEARD) launched its special 2021 edition of the South African Health Review (SAHR) entitled: Health Sector Responses to COVID-19: What Have we Learnt? at a hybrid event in Pretoria in April.
The publication was made possible through financial support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation.
The SAHR is an accredited peer-reviewed annual publication which promotes the sharing of knowledge and offers empirical understanding aimed at improving South Africa’s health system. HEARD academics Professors Kaymarlin Govender and Gavin George were guest editors of the 2021 edition of the SAHR, along with Ms Ashnie Padarath, co-editor and Dr Themba Moeti, co-editor and CEO of the HST.
The Review features contributions from over 50 academics and health experts, capturing both the impact and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as recommendations to build a stronger and more resilient health system.
Key findings include:
• Whilst Government’s response focused on containment and mitigation measures to flatten the peak of COVID-19, with the aim of saving lives and reducing the strain on healthcare systems, prolonged lockdowns have resulted in negative social and economic impacts which have disproportionately affected the poor and other vulnerable populations.
• The pandemic has had devastating socio-economic costs and an estimated 2.8 million South Africans have lost their jobs. South Africa’s budgetary and Public Finance Management systems allocated more than R20 billion to the health sector COVID-19 response and an additional R100 billion for income support through the new social grants and temporary employer/employee relief scheme (TERS) benefits.
• COVID-19 has placed an even greater strain on South Africa’s already overburdened and under-resourced health system.
• The pandemic has taken a severe toll on healthcare workers, particularly those that work in resource-constrained settings, with workers enduring shortages of basic resources, and rapid depletion and delayed restocking of COVID-19-related equipment, all of which have had a negative impact on their mental health.
• The Review highlights the importance of adopting a community-based approach to identify more sustainable and cost-effective methods to deliver services at primary healthcare and community levels. The role of community health workers has expanded to include support for COVID-19-based community testing and screening, highlighting their critical role in responding to this pandemic.
• There has been an overall increase in maternal deaths, stillbirths and perinatal mortality. Rural provinces experienced increased pressure on their services due to pregnant women migrating from metropolitan areas back home; with metropolitan areas inundated with severe COVID-19 cases, leading to an increased burden in these areas and inability to manage routine emergencies.
• Government has not been disability-inclusive in its management of the pandemic and the vaccination programme has deepened the multiple layers of vulnerability and challenges for persons with disabilities.
• The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated action in a number of areas. Progress has been made in developing reporting systems that combine data from the public and private sectors, and there are promising examples of intersectoral collaboration, public-private partnerships, and innovative joint ventures, and examples of providing rehabilitation services under strict lockdown conditions.
Delivering a message of support at the launch, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at UKZN, Professor Mosa Moshabela said that the University was proud to be associated with the Review through HEARD. He added that the findings are an honest reflection of what South Africa did right in managing the pandemic and they also highlight those areas in which the country was found wanting. He urged all stakeholders to draw from the lessons when managing future pandemics.
Moshabela noted that the pandemic had shone a spotlight on the exceptional researchers in the country, including Professors Salim Abdool Karim and Tulio de Oliveira, both from UKZN.
The Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla’s presence at the launch to receive the Review affirms the South African government’s commitment to working with academia in addressing the country’s health challenges. ‘We would not be where we are today without your support, I believe we will all take the lessons documented in this journal and apply them to make our health system better prepared for and more resilient to the challenges of pandemics and emerging health challenges such as COVID-19,’ he said in his keynote address.
Commenting on the Review, Moeti added: ‘The SAHR is a repository of valuable information that provides insights and lessons on developing more resilient health systems that are capable of responding to future public health emergencies.’