Government is currently working on a package of primary health care services that will be provided under the National Health Insurance – the starting point being to ensure that all services currently provided in the public sector are included.

This according to Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize who was speaking at the launch of the 7th annual Rotary Family Health Days outreach programme on Wednesday evening.

Mkhize said the principle behind Universal Health Coverage is that no one should be denied access to quality health care because of socio-economic circumstances – whether it be of the individual, or the state that should be taking care of that individual.

He said government is therefore determined not to let the COVID-19 crisis “go to waste” by ensuring that every opportunity is taken to adopt the machinations contemplated in the NHI Bill to manage COVID-19 and stay on the path towards Universal Health Coverage.

“May I therefore take the opportunity, to revisit the principles of the NHI and I hope that there will now be much familiarity in our lived experiences during the COVID-19 surge,” he said.

“We are currently working on a package of primary health care services that will be provided under the NHI. Our starting point is to ensure that all services currently provided in the public sector are included.

We are also working with the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) to ensure that every medical scheme pays for the same package of primary health care services as that provided by the public sector – this is part of the process to revise the prescribed minimum benefits that the CMS is working on.”

Mkhize was speaking alongside heads of Rotary, both locally and nationally, as well as leaders of civil society organisations.

The 7th annual Rotary Family Health Days outreach programme is a massive humanitarian community health initiative that began in 2012.

“This programme achieves the goals of primary health care through public private partnership which aims to provide an enabling environment for communities to proactively seek health and be afforded the opportunity to practice preventative health care,” Mkhize said.

“The timeliness of this year’s programme could not be more critical as we emerge out of the COVID-19 surge and refocus our energy towards the attainment of Universal Health Coverage.

As a programme that has established a broad footprint in our communities, we as the Department of Health welcome this opportunity to kickstart a campaign of rebuilding rapport with our community members and attracting them back to our facilities to test for and manage various conditions such as HIV, TB, hypertension, diabetes and cancer.”

Prior to COVID-19, South Africa was already in the clutches of a triple burden of HIV, TB and non-communicable diseases.

The Health minister cautioned those burdened with such diseases to continue taking their medication and visiting their clinics.

“We are aware that, due to the combination of lockdown regulations and the fear of contracting COVID-19 in facilities, our people shied away from seeking what may have been deemed to be non-urgent or non-essential health services. We are very concerned by the significant declines in numbers of patients who sought medical assistance for the common conditions we have outlined,” Mkhize said.

Between April and June, HIV testing fell by 46% and medical male circumcisions had to be suspended and resumed on July 1. Screening for TB fell nationally by 9% for adults and 14% for children and the Primary Health Care utilization rate by children (for example access to immunization) fell by 20%.

“As we approach World AIDS day, we need to remind ourselves that HIV/ AIDS is still a pandemic in this country, more threatening than COVID-19. Therefore, I believe we all know why testing for HIV is so important. Firstly, knowing one’s HIV status will assist in management of the disease if one is HIV positive,” Mkhize said.

“You can get treatment and live a long and healthy life. Also, if one is HIV positive, one should take care not to transmit the virus to others, by adhering to their medication in order to stay virally suppressed.

If you take your treatment well without defaulting, you will remain virally suppressed with a strong immune system and this plays a crucial role in protecting you from contracting other diseases, including COVID-19.”