The South African Health Review 1996 documents the degree to which structural reform and policy formulation within the health sector has translated into real improvements in service delivery and the quality of peoples lives. In sum, the Review reveals a mixed scorecard. Progress has been excellent in some areas, whereas others show little movement. This, the Review argues, is the nature of health reform.
Perhaps the overriding success of the Ministry of Health has been the process of restructuring towards primary health care, reflected both in the organisation of health care and expenditure patterns. Equally impressive has been the introduction of an essential drugs list within the public sector, which is likely to improve the availability of medicines over a relatively short period of time. At local level, the Department of Health can take credit for generating tremendous enthusiasm for change amongst service managers and health workers.
But in the critical areas of financing and health legislation, progress has been slow. Discussions about some form of social health insurance have borne little fruit. A new Health Act is in its seventh draft, but has not been available for public comment. In addition, controversy over Cuban doctors and vocational training for new graduates has often obscured the need for a comprehensive plan for addressing the maldistribution of health personnel in South African - from province to province, between public and private sector, and between hospital and primary care facilities. All of the above need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the next year.
The South African Health Review 1996 tackles Sarafina 2 head-on, and considers its effect on HIV/AIDS prevention, the ability of the Department to make progress over the past year, and the relationship between the executive and legislative arms of health governance. But it places the biggest controversy faced by the Health Department during 1996 in the context of the full programme of health care reform initiated by the Ministry. Areas of energy and activity which serve as the vanguard of health reform have been identified, as have bottlenecks which impede progress.