A provincial healthcare system that works

Rhoda Kadalie on the achievements of the WCape DoH under the leadership of Theuns Botha

In recent years, I have come to witness remarkable improvements and innovation in the health sector in the Western Cape. Two weeks ago I took about twelve German doctors, who do an elective with the University of Stellenbosch Business School, to Crossroads to see an HIV clinic in action. Gobsmacked at the burden of disease our medical staff face, they were equally astounded at the professionalism and dedication of those who confront this mammoth task daily.

More recently, my experience, with the WC health-care system, became personal. My brother had a stroke and was admitted to Groote Schuur hospital. After a week and a half of superb care, he was taken to the rehabilitation centre at Lentegeur Hospital. I was surprised to see this centre and its range of facilities. Having nothing but praise for the respectful and professional treatment he receives from doctors, nurses, and therapists alike, my brother's speech is restored almost 95%; and although he still cannot walk, he receives top class treatment in one of the three gyms in the centre.

Friends and colleagues affirm my positive experiences and each has their own story to tell. So I decided to call MEC Theuns Botha to meet the man behind the mission. Without fuss he rocked up at my office and after a few minutes I discover a public servant who is not only passionate about his job, but who also has a clear vision - to create healthier communities, not just through the provision of services, but also through the promotion of wellness.

To strengthen the health sector's infrastructure, Botha and his top management have embarked on an array of partnerships with the private sector to explore innovation. The envisaged Chronic Dispensary Unit electronically prepacks chronic medication for the 34% of chronic patients in the WC, and despatch it to alternative sites. Another new idea was to foster partnerships with 160 pharmacies and include them in the facilities of the Dept of Health. The aim is to increase them to 400, for primary health care. More exciting, is the plan to target children by new state of the art mobile units (13) with satellites and relevant dental and optometric equipment to screen all grade R and grade 1 pupils annually.

The revamp of Valkenberg is on the cards, and the recent opening of the beautiful new hospitals in Mitchells Plain and Khalyelitsha, has made its mark on the Cape Flats. In addition Botha's ministry has rebuilt 7 new hospitals (two in George, one in Worcester, Paarl, Hermanus, Vredenburg and Riversdale). With 32 000 staff, his aim is to reduce patient numbers, improve the ratios of medical staff per patient, and improve the geographical spread.

Prior to Botha's takeover, the last hospital built, he says, was "Tygerberg Hospital in 1974 - nothing but a Voortrekker Monument." Asking him what his biggest challenges were he responded without batting an eyelid: "fewer ill people; a comprehensive health-care approach; and reducing the scourge of alcohol - a mass killer - and violence". Just two weeks ago one hospital saw 12 gun-shots and 74 stab wounds in one night. "Ms Kadalie, because of the scourge of gang violence, we built (and are building) 18 new emergency centres. I wish I could put the budget for this in preventative work, instead!"

A direct descendant of General Louis Botha, this Pretoria-boytjie, who grew up in Kimberley and studied at the University of Bloemfontein, knows his stuff. Bringing the best of his legal and business skills to public office, Botha "puts people at the centre" of his enterprise. "Given the history of this country, my motto is to treat people with dignity, provide equality of opportunity and the best facilities, especially, to the poor."

This article first appeared in Die Burger.

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