Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. PHOTO: GCIS

THE ongoing controversy surrounding Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize raises alarm bells for the future rollout of National Health Insurance (NHI), according to the South African Medical Association.

SAMA’s reaction follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to place Mkhize on special leave to attend to the allegations of corruption, around a R150 million communications tender awarded to a company linked to a close associate of the minister.

The council said the move to place Mkhize on special leave will also have an adverse impact on the country’s already struggling COVID-19 vaccination programme.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) plans to complete its investigation this month.

Chairperson of SAMA, Dr Angelique Coetzee, said in a statement on Thursday that corruption in the health sector will compromise the ability of healthcare workers and the system at large to provide services.

“Previous scandals and allegations of corruption involving the provision of personal protective equipment and now the allegations against the Minister, bring into doubt the department’s ability to effectively manage large-scale projects. NHI will be the biggest project of the department ever and based on the current track record we have to voice our concerns over whether this will be repeated when that happens,” said Coetzee.

Coetzee said Mkhize’s saga has far reaching consequences for health provision in South Africa and casts a cloud on plans to roll out NHI.

The objective of the NHI Bill is to provide universal access to quality health care for all South Africans as enshrined in the Constitution.

The implementation of the NHI is seen as a critical intervention that will assist in restructuring the core components of the health system. In turn, this will allow for better use of and access to the capacity available in the health sector with better prioritisation of the most vulnerable.

“Among these is the proposal in the NHI Bill which places unfettered powers in the hands of the Health Minister in NHI structures when they are established,” said Coetzee.

“What the recent developments point to is a great need for more accountability in the structures of the NHI, accountability which is not currently part of the Bill. Dr Mkhize’s relationship with Digital Vibes, and the allegations he benefitted personally from contracts awarded by the department, make the inclusion of such provisions essential.”

At the start of May, the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) said that the government’s planned National Health Insurance is in full development, with plans to move to phase 3 of the programme from next year.

In its 2021/2022 annual performance plan, the CMS said that phase 3 will include mandatory pre-payment of the new scheme, contracting for accredited private hospital and specialist services, and finalisation and implementation of the NHI Act.

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