ARE WE READY FOR FREE HEALTHCARE?

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ARE WE READY FOR FREE HEALTHCARE?
ARE WE READY FOR FREE HEALTHCARE?

Africa-Press – Eswatini. As he prepared his keynote speech, Prime Minister Russell Dlamini may have had a premonition of what was to happen at the Prince of Wales Sportsground on Workers’ Day.It is now a matter of historical record that he never got round to delivering this speech.

However, the written one given to the media after the chaos that resulted in him hurriedly leaving the arena had a poignant message that seemed to predict what was to happen.

Had they given him a chance to speak, workers would have heard him say, “I am here today, together with Cabinet to challenge you as workers to work with this government to build our country. This is the right time for us to work together and not fight. We are not enemies but we have the same interest to build our country. We may have different responsibilities but we have to work together.” It is very unfortunate that some of the workers present at this well-attended event regard government as the enemy. They have their reasons but the question is whether that was the right platform for the pockets of disgruntled workers to demonstrate their disapproval of government, and in such a harsh manner.

Explain

It will be interesting to hear how workers’ representatives will explain this situation when they attend the International Labour Organisation (ILO) annual convention in Geneva, Switzerland next month. For years, the Eswatini Government, which is also required to attend and faithfully does so, has been confronted with various questions regarding the treatment of workers. Several ministers of labour have found themselves in the unenviable position of defending government when unions reported to the ILO that they were being deprived of basic rights like marching in protest against certain laws or policies. The May Day drama has been ventilated by many commentators, including fellow journalists, unionists and other observers, so I will not delve into it much.

I have decided to focus on what the prime minister would have said, had he been accorded the right and dignity to speak. Among other issues, he had hoped to address the longstanding issue of the minimum wage. The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) has already suggested E3 500 as the basic minimum wage for all workers in Eswatini. The PM was to say even though government would not promise heaven and earth; it committed itself to ensuring that the minimum wage and the entire welfare of workers were being looked into.

His speech did not have much on the Ministry of Health, which has been marred by a litany of issues in recent years but he had hoped to inform workers that the ministry had already been mandated to work on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).In layman’s terms, the NHIS could be described as medical aid for the less privileged. This is an issue that has become controversial in nearby South Africa, as the government has promised to introduce it as well. The NHI in South Africa will be a mandatory State-run medical aid.

Contribute

Citizens who have the ability to pay will be expected to contribute to the Fund, whether they are medical aid members or not.It is said that the National Health Insurance Fund in SA will cover the costs of healthcare for every South African, employed or unemployed, poor or rich, without them having to pay. This is said to be the South African government’s strategy to achieve universal health coverage. The National Insurance Fund journey began in 2011 but it was only in June 2023 that the NHI Bill was passed by the National Assembly. The less privileged are eager to see it start operating but medical practitioners, especially those in the private sector, believe it will render them redundant.

They believe that if everybody has access to free quality medical care, nobody will require their services. There has also been talk around the quality of healthcare that would come with this scheme. Some South Africans believe that when the costs are reduced, the quality will also be compromised. I am mentioning all the details about the NHI proposal in SA because economic and medical experts say the government there simply does not have the financial resources to support the scheme. They also complain that there is a shortage of healthcare infrastructure. The NHI Fund will get a large amount of its funding from general taxes. At least 12 years after this idea was touted in South Africa, the Fund has not yet started operating, simply because it is a complicated issue.

While it is also a welcome idea in Eswatini, it is important to look at the pros and cons before getting too excited. We should not forget that as a nation, we are still a long way from having properly stocked dispensaries at government hospitals and clinics. With each passing day, there are complaints about the shortage of medical drugs, a lack of essential supplies like mere gloves and faulty equipment. In the last couple of weeks, the spotlight has been on the unavailability of dialysis services at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital (RFM) in Manzini.

Outcry

This was also the case with blood pressure (BP) and diabetes medication, which was only delivered last week, after an outcry from those affected. Under normal circumstances, the delivery of medical drugs and supplies to hospitals should not make newspaper headlines. We never see it happening in other countries because it is almost similar to celebrating the ability of a fish to swim. However, in our country, this is front page news because the norm has been that most drugs are unavailable in public health facilities. So, when they are eventually delivered, there is cause to celebrate. We are also facing a serious shortage of medical personnel, made worse by the sudden interest of overseas countries in recruiting from our country.

The Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) has been at pains, trying to bring government’s attention to this challenge. It is therefore, obvious that our proposed National Health Insurance Scheme cannot take off without these challenges having been addressed to every stakeholder’s satisfaction and for the long term.

Source: times

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