In the media

Healthy people contribute to a healthy economy

30 October 2017


Should a government be concerned with its citizens' health, or only with their economic security and education? How much healthcare should be provided by the government, if any, and who should receive it? As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the National Development Plan 2030 NDP, regarded as the country's most strategic initiative to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality, it is time for us to live by what former US president John F Kennedy told the world 56 years ago: "Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country." Chapter 10 of Vision 2030, which deals with health, envisions a health system that works for everyone and produces positive health outcomes; is not out of reach. It aims to raise the life expectancy of South Africans to at least 70 years; ensure that the generation of under20s is largely free of HIV; significantly reduce the burden of disease and achieve an infant mortality rate of less than 20 deaths per thousand live births including an under five mortality rate of less than 30 per thousand. Everyone has a role to play.

Look around you and see the many ways public health affects your life. We need to create a culture of wellness where public health professionals and resources are the cornerstones of our nation's health. Essential to realise the vision is a solid public health infrastructure. We need to address staffing shortages in the nursing and primary care fields so that we all have access to the providers who can help us stay healthy. Five years into the NDP there has been some progress. According to Statistics South Africa Stats SA, total life expectancy at birth has increased from 57.1 years in 2009 to 63.3 years in 2015. Stats SA estimates for 2017 place our overall life expectancy at 67 years. Child health has improved, with under five mortality decreasing from 56 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2009 to 37 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2015; and the maternal mortality ratio has fractionally improved from 158 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2014 to 154 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2015.

Our country has scored dramatic successes in the fight against HIV/Aids. To date, more than 3 million South Africans are on antiretroviral treatment, which has improved life expectancy. One of our greatest success stories is the remarkable 67% reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV from 8% in 2008 to 2.6% in 2012. More than 20 million people have been tested for HIV through the HIV counselling and testing campaign. Indeed, the NDP provides a road map to a South Africa where all will have water, electricity, sanitation, jobs, housing, public transport, adequate nutrition, education, social protection, quality healthcare, recreation and a clean environment. It envisages a country in 2030 where every citizen will have worked hard to transform South Africa into a more equitable and prosperous society.

To achieve this goal, the NDP is rooted around these pillars: the mobilisation of all around the common goal of reducing inequality and ending absolute poverty; enabling citizens to be engaged in their own development; expanding the economy and making growth inclusive; building human, physical and institutional capabilities, as well as a capable and developmental state and fostering strong leadership throughout society. To go back to JFK's rallying cry to the world, what are you doing to contribute to a better South Africa for all as envisaged by the NDP? The NDP cannot be achieved and delivered by government alone, but requires a joint collaborative approach by public, private and nongovernmental sectors together with citizen participation and involvement.

We in the business community and the private sector should always remember that the health of the workforce inextricably is linked to the productivity of the workforce and, therefore, to the health of the bottom line. Therefore, improving workforce health and lifestyle behaviours lowers medical and disability claims and reduces unplanned sickness, absence, and lost productivity. It is fitting that many companies offer health and wellness tools. This includes use of health risk appraisals and other assessments, including a wide spectrum of programmes and incentives, such as health screening services including assessments, flu shots, cholesterol or blood tests, smoking cessation programmes, subsidised gym programmes or an onsite workout facility, allocation of time for employees to exercise during the work day, healthy foods on company cafeteria menus, lunch and learn programmes on healthy eating or lifestyle choices, debt counselling, diet counselling and personal health coaches. Also, public private partnerships PPPs are essential to accelerate the implementation of NDP programmes, including the National Health Insurance NHI, an element of the NDP which will radically transform access to health in our country. To build healthy communities and nation, we need PPPs and collaboration with the government to find solutions to social challenges envisaged by the NDP. PPPs are a huge tool to be added to the toolbox to maintain and fund our health sector and health infrastructural initiatives.

Through the PPPs, our country has the potential to increase access to critically needed services and goods that otherwise would not be available. For example, to live to our belief in PPPs, our courier pharmacy, Pharmacy Direct, has partnered with the government in seven of the nine provinces as part of central chronic medication dispensing and distribution, which among others, reduces queues at the clinics and hospitals by using data and employing individuals to assist with enrolling patients onto the programme and deliver medication to both urban and rural areas, to reduce the number of visits by patients to the healthcare through delivery to designated pickup points.

We need to look at PPPs as a synergetic arrangement, which ensures, that the huge private sector also contributes to the NDP's public health goals. Indeed, everyone is duty bound to create a healthy nation which can take the country forward by preventing people from falling ill. For the citizenry, it is worthwhile to follow these tips for a healthier lifestyle as we strive to live to the NDP's 2030 vision: Don't smoke. If you can, stop. If you can't, cut down Follow a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables Keep physically active Manage stress by, for example, talking things through and making time to relax If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation; Practise safer sex Take up cancer screening opportunities Follow the rules of the road. We all are duty bound to create a healthy nation. It is important to identify the present and future challenges in the health sector for creating a healthy nation. Like any new venture there will be glitches along the way. It's the price of growth.

Our rainbow nation was built by leaders who were willing to take risks and inspired people to sacrifice and work together for the public good. Let us all work hard to renew our nation's capacity to advance the health of all South Africans. Grace Khoza is the executive director for group marketing and corporate affairs at AfroCentric Group, owners of Medscheme and other health companies.


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