The need to prepare for the implementation of a healthcare system based on the principles of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is one of the key lessons South Africa has learnt from its fight against COVID-19.

This according to Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize who, while addressing an African Union virtual ministerial session on Friday, said the pandemic has showed how a private-public sector partnership resulting in a collaborative healthcare system can be effective.

Mkhize was highlighting some of the lessons the country has learnt from fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said it is important to prepare for a future based on the principles of Universal Health Coverage, which is enshrined in South Africa’s implementation of the National Health Insurance.  The pandemic also showed the need for the public and private healthcare sectors to work together, he said. This is one of the core principles of the NHI.

Mkhize said it was important for South Africa to prepare for future epidemics and has learnt valuable lessons in how to implement a robust surveillance system based on real-time information. He said an agile response by government and ensuring the population is ensured is essential.

South Africa’s strategy to combatting the pandemic included decentralising its response at a local level while using a risk-adjusted matrix. These are strategies that can be used in the future, Mkhize said.

Mkhize admitted that there were challenges however, especially with the impact of the pandemic on routine health services.

He said there was a decline in routine services as a result of the national lockdown when, for example, there was a 50% decline in patients testing for tuberculosis. He said there was also a noticeable impact on immunisation services, especially in urban areas where the surge in cases was high.

Mkhize told other ministers in the African Union that South Africa is now focussed on preparing for the possibility of a resurgence in case numbers while recovering economically from its initial effects.