Visiting ‘Elders’ urge SA to take the NHI plunge

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Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland has urged MPs not to let concerns about corruption or the weak economy stand in the way of the National Health Insurance, reports Business Day.

The report says Brundtland is in South Africa with a delegation of the “Elders”, a group of former world leaders established by former President Nelson Mandela in 2007 to work for peace and human rights. Responding to questions from MPs concerned that NHI will flounder on corruption, Brundtland conceded South Africa had a “bigger problem than many other countries” but said these could not be an excuse not to pursue universal health coverage.

Addressing a joint sitting of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on health, and the NCOP’s select committee on health & social services, she said many countries, including Norway, had successfully implemented universal health coverage despite their poor economic conditions at the time. Investing in healthcare would boost the economy, she said, citing work by the former Secretary of the US Treasury Larry Summers that showed health investments could yield benefits 10 times greater than their costs.

Her fellow Elder, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, attributed what he said was the successful implementation of universal health coverage in Chile to its staged approach, and urged South Africa to do likewise.


Brundtland also pointed to “inefficiencies” in the existing health system – singling out “a number of health insurance companies charging high administration costs”.

According to a report in Die Burger, she compared South Africa to Thailand which has similar economic development, saying that country uses 3.7% of its GDP to cover its entire population while South Africans spend 8.1% of GDP without covering the entire population.

Business Day report
Die Burger report (subscription needed)

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