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The National Health Insurance (NHI), for which membership will be compulsory, is a funding scheme that aims to address healthcare inequity in South Africa. The scheme will do this by creating a fund that the government will use to buy healthcare services at set fees from accredited public and private health providers. The NHI Bill was passed in the National Assembly in June 2023. It has to go to the National Council of Provinces for approval.

HomeArticlesUN panel investigates access to medicine

UN panel investigates access to medicine

As part of a global dialogue, a UN panel is meeting in Johannesburg to discuss proposals that aim to help prevent millions of unnecessary deaths.

“Millions of people continue to die from diseases that we have cures for or the ability to prevent,” said the director general for health.

“But we need all stakeholders to be united around new solutions,” Precious Matsoso added. She was speaking ahead of Thursday’s United Nations high-level panel discussion in Johannesburg on access to medicines.

She said being able to get affordable medicines and the development of new innovations “are critical to saving lives”, especially in Africa where countries are often under-resourced and where many drugs “remain out of reach”.

Matsoso is one of 16 people who will be at the meeting, convened by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon in November to “address the policy incoherence between intellectual property laws and access to health”.

The panel, which includes the former presidents of Botswana and Switzerland, Festus Gontebanye Mogae and Ruth Dreifuss, called for submissions from “stakeholders from any field” in December in preparation for two global dialogues – the first of which was held in London on March 10. Thursday’s meeting is the second.

Global reach

“Among the core reasons for holding two dialogues in different regions of the world was to have a global and diverse discussion,” said Mandeep Dhaliwal, who heads up the UN Developmental Programme’s HIV portfolio. “Access to medicines, diagnostics and vaccines are issues that affect people in every country.”

The topic will be the same as the one in London, but the Johannesburg meeting “may deal more with the struggle that revolves around the current focus on pharmaceutical sales and the lack of production of health technologies for diseases that do not impact countries with major pharmaceutical capabilities”, said Dhaliwal.

Based on these global dialogues, along with more than 170 shortlisted submissions and consultations, the panel will finalise a report to present to the secretary general in June.

The panel said the report is intended to be “an evidence-informed, rights-based analysis of proposals and recommendations to promote the development and production of health technologies in a way that balances trade, human rights and public health”.

Unprecedented move

Judit Rius Sanjuan, from the international health organisation Médecins Sans Frontières, which has contributed a detailed submission, said the mandate of the panel is “unprecedented and a potentially historical opportunity” for public health.

“It is the first time the secretary general (or any forum that we know) has asked to look at the challenges given because of the limited access to affordable medicines and the innovation needs of all patients (in developed and developing countries).”

Matsoso said the panel hoped to put forward to Ban “recommendations that are bold and effective and that will, more than ever, increase every human’s right to health and wellbeing”.

Amy Green was a health reporter at Bhekisisa from 2013 until 2016.