It is that much anticipated time of the year when local families gather before their television sets or radios to hear first-hand how our country is performing. On Thursday at 7pm, President Jacob Zuma will deliver his State of the Nation Address.
The Address will also mark the end of the tenure of the current administration and place us on the road to our fifth national election on 7 May 2014. In addition, this year takes on a special meaning for all of us, as we prepare to celebrate 20 Years of Freedom and take stock of our achievements.
In 1994 we inherited a state where for many decades; resources were disproportionately allocated, resulting in inferior services for the majority. After our first democratic elections, government had an immense task, with limited resources, to redress the socio-economic and political challenges.
Today we look back with pride at the tremendous progress we have made, but appreciate the challenges of inequalities, poverty and unemployment. When President Zuma assumed office in 2009, he set targets for government which built on the successes of the previous administration in creating a better life for all.
As we approach the end of this five-year term, a significant number of these targets have been met and the groundwork, even for those delayed, has been laid. One area which government prioritised was quality healthcare. In 2009 President Zuma assured South Africans during his first State of the Nation Address that “we will improve the health profile of all South Africans”.
Under the leadership of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, the Department of Health implemented a number of new initiatives in line with World Health Organisation guidelines and the latest scientific research findings.
The hard work of government is evident. According to Mid-Year Population Estimates 2013, the overall life expectancy increased from 56.8 years in 2009 to 59.6 years last year. This exceeded our target of 58.5 years by this year.
The Development Indicators 2012 state that the increase was “a direct result” of government interventions in to combating tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS. These interventions include the scaling up of our antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programme and the launch of the HIV Counselling and Testing campaign.
Today South Africa has the largest ARV programme in the world. To ensure government extended its reach to all, the Department of Health increased the number of public health facilities providing ARVs from 490 in February 2010 to 3 540 last year. According to Minister Motsoaledi, 2.4 million people are now benefiting from ARV treatment compared with 923 000 in February 2010.
Furthermore, the 2010 turnaround in HIV management had a positive impact on childhood mortality. According to the Presidency’s 2012/13 Annual Report, there has been a significant reduction in mother-to-child transmission of HIV from about 8 per cent in 2008 to 2.5 per cent in 2012. As a result, more than 100 000 babies were protected from HIV infection.
Last year government improved the lives of those receiving treatment by reducing their daily ARV cocktail of three pills to one tablet. The new single dose ARV regime is not only revolutionary, but extremely affordable at a cost of R89.38 a month per patient.
Premature deaths as a result of TB were significantly reduced over the past five years, mainly due to an increase in the cure rate. Our TB control programme has now moved towards active case finding and rapid diagnosis using the latest technology called GenXpert.
With regard to strengthening the effectiveness of the health system, the Department of Health is putting in place the building blocks for the National Health Insurance (NHI). The NHI is a financing system that will ensure all South Africans are provided with essential healthcare, regardless of their employment status.
The government also established the Office of Health Standards Compliance to regulate compliance with norms and standards in the health sectors.
Our healthcare system has come a long way and South Africans are starting to live longer, healthier lives. However, more work remains in order to meet our National Development (NDP) objectives. By 2030 the NDP targets a life expectancy of at least 70 years and aspires for a generation of under- twenties that are largely free of HIV.
Our achievements in health were not accomplished by government alone. They were achieved in the spirit of cooperation between government, the private sector, healthcare professionals and civil society. Let us continue to work together!
Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)