THE Eastern Cape’s fourth Health MEC since 2008, Sicelo Gqobana admits that the task of reforming a department which has become endemically flawed and crippled by corruption is an immense one.
The former local government MEC, who shifted to his new position in November in an executive council reshuffle, immediately set to work at curbing overspending, suspending officials suspected of fraud and decentralising a department which his predecessor, Phumulo Masualle, had set to centralise in Bhisho.
Already Gqobana has briefed top health officials about his plan to delegate authority to four regions in the province in a bid to cut down on red tape. Nelson Mandela Bay would be headquarters for the western region.
He is also reversing Masualle’s plan to bring all 50 Bay clinics under the control of Bhisho by handing the 40 partially run by the municipality over to the city entirely.
Another drive is to ready the province for the roll-out of National Health Insurance (NHI) by the government, which includes upgrading infrastructure to compete with private institutions.
But despite numerous requests for a one-on-one interview, Gqobana was only willing to answer written queries through his spokesman, Siyanda Manana. This was despite numerous attempts over five weeks to organise an interview with him, and assurances from Manana that this would happen.
In his written response, Gqobana laid out his priorities:
“The department and the metro manage PHC services jointly, pending the establishment of a single health authority (the metro taking control of the district) in preparation of the implementation of an NHI system, premised on a single health authority in each health district.”
He also said health services in general did not receive adequate funds from government to address communities’ needs. His department was trying to help ease this by deploying its staff at municipal clinics.
“The department has further embarked on a project to revitalise and strengthen PHC services in general.”
“We intend to control the budget tightly. We are looking at not being charged exorbitant prices for goods we procure. We are improving our procurement processes and improving our efficiencies.
“We also intend to generate income in our hospitals by attending to patients who have medical aid.
“The department has put austerity measures in place. Frivolous things like catering have been curbed. There is a cap on cellphone allowances. Officials avoid sleeping over when they can leave in the morning and come back the same day.”
“The province is implementing community-based management for multidrug-resistant TB. Tracer teams give injections, supervise treatment and monitor side effects when treatment is continuing in the community.”
HIV AND AIDS:
“We are conducting a HIV counselling and testing campaign. We want people to know their status, so they can begin treatment early.
“Our approach is also to integrate services for HIV, TB, MCH (maternal and child health), SRH (sexual and reproductive health) and wellness.”