Cape Town - Universal health coverage is a worldwide phenomenon supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi reiterated on Tuesday when tabling his department's Budget Vote in Parliament.
Responding to MPs who exchanged impassioned views over the implementation of the system in South Africa, Motsoaledi said universal health coverage, in the form of a National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, was a widely shared political aim of most countries, which has enjoyed increasing attention recently with the signing last month by 21 countries - including South Africa - of the Mexico City Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.
Motsoaledi said his department was about 90% of the way through audits being conducted by teams in hospitals and clinics, scrutinising things such as cleanliness, safety and security, drug stock count, long queues, infection control and the attitude of staff.
The audits are to prepare the way for the NHI and teams are working in four districts, namely Zululand (KwaZulu-Natal), Sedibeng (Gauteng), Motheo (Free State), and Pixley ka Seme (Northern Cape).
A total of R1 billion had been granted by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for the Department of Health to carry out the 10 National Health Insurance (NHI) pilots.
The department aims to tackle four main health problems in the country, namely improve the life expectancy of South Africans, reduce child and maternal mortality, tackle the scourge of HIV/Aids and improve efficiency in the health care system.
Motsoledi admitted that improving the health care system was the most difficult of the challenges his department faced.
His department was also tackling under-spending on health infrastructure and he said that for the last financial year, this had been reduced from over R800 million last year to R390 million since the year has started.
Recently, 70 unemployed graduates with degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, had been appointed by the department to help improve the turnaround and performance of the forensic health unit, he said.
The department has also appointed 100 commerce graduates to undergo a leadership programme.
Turning to the strides government was making to tackle HIV/Aids, he said a new strategic plan was launched in December last year and for the first time, fighting TB had been included in tackling the epidemic.
He said more than 15 million South Africans will know their status as a result of the department's testing campaign.
Under the new plan, Motsoaledi wants every South African to test for HIV/Aids at least once a year.
The number of South Africans on anti-retrovirals (ARVs) had also increased, while the incidence of mother-to-child infections had decreased from eight percent in 2008 to 3.5% in 2011 - which had saved about 30 000 babies from contracting HIV/Aids.
He said a new campaign initiated by the AU - the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa - would be launched next Friday in KwaZulu-Natal.
The department also planned to tackle non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancers and asthma, as well as growing lifestyle problems such as smoking, alcohol, poor eating and lack of physical exercise.