‘Covid-19 pandemic yielded many positive lessons for SA’

The health MEC in Limpopo denies that there is a shortage of beds in hospitals around the province. Picture: AFP/Michael SHEEHAN

Despite the bad reports about corruption, a consultant for the national health department says a lot has been learned from the pandemic, while the infrastructure and logistics gains also can’t be dismissed.

A consultant for the department of health, Dr Nicholas Crisp has said the country has “learnt a lot” from the Covid-19 pandemic “despite the bad things about corruption and the failure of certain administrations to follow national directives”.

In a podcast, Crisp was discussing  how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the future of National Health Insurance (NHI).

Crisp said he is of the view that a lot more positives rather than negatives would come out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But I accept there’s trust deficit and its infuriated a lot of us, I would say most of us, we’ve been working very hard to address the issues of corruption in the country, not just in the health sector,” Crisp said.

Despite the huge impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had, the government has been “resilient” in the way services were delivered, Crisp said.

“There are parts of the country that have been particularly bad but there are parts that have done remarkably well to deliver health services,” Crisp said.

One of the lessons learned, he said, was that “non-Covid care” that must be provided should not be ignored, while another was on the NHI budget.

“The NHI budget is a misnomer, its an experimental portion of the budget to test various things and if we had to give up a bit of that to improve the infrastructure, then we scored infrastructure.

Echoing earlier statements by KwaZulu-Natal Premier, Sihle Zikalala, that the infrastructure constructed or renovated during the pandemic could make it easier to implement the NHI, he said: “We’ve improved buildings dramatically. We’ve put in oxygen lines that were never there before. We’ve got equipment. We’ve got beds, we’ve got linen on those beds which we didn’t have before,” he said.

Other lessons learned, he said, were on staffing and how “a lot more” can be done “with less staff” and that “if we don’t look after our staff and dramatically improve our occupational health and safety and the way in which the health managers work together with the unions” the department was on a path “to nowhere”.

“We’ve learned issues around the health products and how to manage health products.

“We had a fledgingly Sahpra [South African Health Products Regulatory Authority] prior to Covid,” he said, explaining that the regulator “was really battling with devices”.

“And yet we’ve had to register South African made ventilator products. We’ve had to register new diagnostic equipment and devices. We’ve had to register medicines we haven’t used in South Africa before.

“There’ve been a whole of vaccine trials that have had to go through that process,” he said, adding that this all happened in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prior to the emergence of the pandemic, the department’s data “was a big shambles”, Crisp said, adding that in that it was one of the NHI office’s major projects.

“And we had to convert our entire digital capability to look after Covid but now what we left with is an unbelievably competent digital system that has got data in it we woould have never dreamt of having before.

“We finally getting people starting to cooperate. We even have private sector data in that data which we didn’t have before.”

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