“With two provinces… owing the NHLS billions of rands, there is a very real possibility that the NHLS will be forced to shut down several of their laboratory services across the regions involved across the country — leaving South Africa without facilities to test for HIV, TB and many other diseases,” the society said in a statement.
It said diagnostic services provided by the NHLS were pivotal in overcoming HIV and tuberculosis and setbacks could have far reaching consequences on the lives of many.
The Star on Monday reported that the KwaZulu-Natal health department owed the NHLS R3 billion, while Gauteng owed R900 million.
The NHLS last week threatened to suspend services to both departments if the amounts owed were not paid.
The NHLS is the largest diagnostic pathology service in South Africa covering around 80 percent of the population.
It also provides research, production of sera for anti-snake venom, and screening for HIV and TB patients.
Divisions of the NHLS include the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, National Institute for Occupational Health, National Cancer Registry, and the SA Vaccine Producers.
The society’s president Dr Francesca Conradie said the problem regarding non-payment of the NHLS was a recurring theme.
“An interruption of laboratory services due to bureaucratic issues will end up harming the poorest and most vulnerable South Africans,” she said.
“Service delivery has improved with a courier service picking up specimens from all clinics. This has resulted in a system where most South Africans live within walking distance of access to world class pathology services. This cannot be allowed to be interrupted,” said Conradie.
The society called on the health department to give the problem immediate attention and to employ long-term strategies to ensure that no further payment difficulties were experienced.