New Health Minister

The last couple of weeks have been very volatile in South African politics. Our president, Thabo Mbeki, was forced to resign by people in his party (only 7 months before the elections!). A number of cabinet ministers have resigned in support of him. Even our finance minister, Trevor Manuel, resigned, and left the markets wobbling in his wake (he was quickly approached and reappointed). Then a new president, voted in by the ANC, took office and appointed a new cabinet.

One good thing that has come out of this is that we have a new health minister. The old health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was absolutely terrible, so pretty much anyone else would be an improvement on her. She was most notorious for being an HIV/AIDS denialist, and thinking that AIDS could be cured by eating beetroot, olive oil, African potato and taking enough vitamins. She thought that antiretrovirals were a plot by white colonialist powers to kill Africans. But Manto was also famous for other things. When working as a doctor in Botswana (during Apartheid days), she stole a watch from an anaesthetized patient in a hospital. She’s also an alcoholic, and being minister of health meant that despite this and the long waiting lists, she was able to get a liver transplant. As you can imagine, very few people had respect for her. It got to the point that a huge grass roots movement, the Treatment Action Campaign, formed in order to combat her horrific AIDS policies.

The new health minister is Barbara Hogan. I know nothing about her, but am excited that someone else is going to take over this job. It’s also exciting because despite Manto being terribly inept and unpopular, the previous government gave her full backing. Having replaced her is an indication that they’ve acknowledged that there were problems, and they they need to do something about it. The TAC were literally singing her praises after her appointment. While clearly this is good news for those with HIV/AIDS (South Africa’s biggest health problem), what will it mean for diabetics?

Well, at the moment state-provided healthcare is a shambles. Baby deaths due to old faulty equipment and understaffing, or bad drinking water, are common in the province I live in. Primary care clinics have long long lines, are understaffed, and run out of drugs. It’s not unheard of for someone with TB to be sent home with an aspirin, because no other drugs are available. Incidentally, I live in one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, with a old health care infrastructure, and yet every year the health ministry fails to spend all the money allocated for health in the annual budget. The result of all this is that those with health insurance and money avoid state hospitals like the plague, and those without suffer. In state hospitals, those with diabetes could be negligently exposed to those with highly infectious diseases. Hopefully, with Barbara Hogan at the helm, things can only improve. Perhaps I lack imagination, but I can’t see how the situation could get worse.