Between death and living, most of us would agree that living, fully living that is, is better. But what if the conditions of life make it difficult? Sustaining and maintaining a healthy life well into old age is so expensive and requires resources most people do not have. More than half of the population of South Africa is thus forced to rely on government hospitals and clinics, which have a reputation for delivering substandard services.

How many of us have been to a government hospital or clinic the whole day only to be sent home without being attended to? How many of us have lost a loved one because they were sent home too early from the hospital or due to bad service?

Personally, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the government system. When I was young, I had a troubling toothache. I went to the clinic for an appointment with a dentist, only to be given an appointment in a month’s time. I was amazed. I mean, I really had to soldier on for a month; the pain that I had to endure was beyond words, so painful, I wished that my entire lower jaw could be pulled! I then decided to take it into my own unqualified hands, and I pulled my tooth using some thin thread. Such are the ill-advised actions some of us take to avoid facing a healthcare system that doesn’t seem to care.

When my beloved mother was still alive, she had a lifelong battle with diabetes and a string of other health complications. She frequented the clinic, where at times she’d come back unhappy having not received her medication. She would talk about it with tears in her eyes. This often overwhelmed me and filled me with a sense of hopelessness because I couldn’t help her. Sometimes she’d come back having been given elementary medication you could easily buy over the counter at a nearby spaza shop. The moment of distress over her health came one night when her blood sugar levels shot up so high, as if volcanic lava was coursing through her veins. We called up the hospital for an emergency. By the time the ambulance arrived, it was hours too late, and my mother was gone; she had passed on. This tragic event often makes me wonder how many others continue to lose their loved ones prematurely to the avoidable.

Medical aid is very expensive in South Africa and with high rates of unemployment and the issue of minimum wage, most of us, might as well consider ourselves corpses if something goes wrong. After all, with what money would we be able to cover the medical bills just for a few days stay at a private hospital?

There are major problems with government hospitals and clinics, and it doesn’t take a day at the optometrist to see it. There are shortages in health experts from different fields, the health facilities aren’t well-looked after, the technologies available are either old or not well maintained, and the level of professionalism can be quite distasteful. The tax payer’s money surely isn’t being put into good use by our government.

To increase performance and to attain positive results in our country’s public healthcare system, the country needs to pump funds to fix infrastructure, to invest in modern equipment, and to invest in staff, so there aren’t shortages when people require help. To improve efficiency more effort has to be put into the reorganisation of schedules and timetables to avoid long queues and bad service. Government should work hand-in-hand with the private sector to make healthcare a national priority and also invest in lucrative pay to attract specialists.

Maybe if ministers and their families were subjected to the poor services rendered in our government hospitals and clinics, they would be take these issues seriously. If their families were left to wait for hours to receive basic care, a right enshrined in the constitution, perhaps they would care about what the rest of the country experiences on a daily basis. It’s time for government to shake things up. Our public healthcare system is in a state of crisis.


Tell us: What do you think needs to be done to improve the government healthcare system?