Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has announced a R500-million allowance scheme to encourage professional health workers to remain at rural health facilities.
A further R750-million is budgeted for 2005, increasing to R1-billion by 2006.
The money will be used to retain and recruit professionals in the public sector where staff shortages threaten the quality of rural healthcare, a briefing in Pretoria was told on Wednesday.
This comes after an agreement was reached between the department and trade unions on allowances for health workers.
The allowances combine, for the first time, to address the dual inequity in the distribution of health professionals between the private and public sectors and between rural and urban areas, Tshabalala-Msimang said.
About 33 000 full-time health professionals will benefit from the rural allowance which ranges from between 8 percent and 22 percent of an annual salary and is dependent on the area where the worker is based and on occupational category.
Nurses and graduate doctors performing community service are included in this category.
Dentists, pharmacists, radiographers and specialised nurses are included and will benefit from an allowance of between 10 percent and 15 percent of their annual salary.
In some cases, health professionals will qualify to receive both allowances, and a doctor working in an isolated rural area could earn up to 37 percent of his or her annual salary in allowances.
The allowances have been implemented with immediate effect and are backdated to July 1, 2003 when I announced the department's intentions in parliament, Tshabalala-Msimang said.
President of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, Vusi Nhlapo, welcomed the announcement, saying it was an important step in the retention of critical skills in the health sector.
General manager of the Public Servants Association, Anton Lourens, said he would like to see the allowance system extended to other public sectors where the retention of skills is of vital importance.
This system shows the government's commitment to addressing the problem of scarce professional skills in our country, he said. (Source: Bruce Venter: The Star, 29 January 2004)
The full text of the scarce skills agreement is at
The rural allowance agreement