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South Africa Debates Bill for National Heath Care

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This month, members of South Africa's parliament will debate something on many people's minds: health care. They will decide the future of the National Health Insurance bill.

The bill's sponsors say their aim is to provide health care to all South Africans. Under the proposal, most health care would be free. It would pay for surgery, doctor visits, medicines and hospital stays.

Right now, only 15 percent of South Africans have health care insurance from private companies. The other 85 percent receive care from a struggling public health care system. That information comes from the government of South Africa.

Supporters of the bill say it will bring justice and equality to the health care system in this deeply unequal country. But critics say the proposal is simply too costly and its goals unclear. They also note the government's inability to stop corruption and mismanagement in other projects.

A pediatric hospital bed is seen at a ward during the official opening of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 2, 2016.
A pediatric hospital bed is seen at a ward during the official opening of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 2, 2016.

Bandile Masuku is a doctor. He recently was appointed to head the health care office in Gauteng, the South African province with the largest population.

Masuku says the National Health Insurance (NHI) bill is a moral necessity.

He said, 'In a country like South Africa, with a culture of democracy, that has to look after the people, … the universal coverage is one way that we're going to do it."

Johann Serfontein works in the health division of the Free Market Foundation. He describes the proposal as unrealistic. He said, 'We've been at it for 10 years. We don't have enough clarity on how we want to do things now.'

But for patients like 25-year-old Kanyisa Ntombini, anything is better than the current system. She has had many surgeries in public hospitals for her conditions, which include blindness. She says the public hospitals need all the help they can get.

She said, 'As a country, we will never be able to improve because we have this huge number of people who are unproductive and will forever be sick.' She added that South Africa needs the NHI so rural and township hospitals can get more financing to improve people's health.

Ntombini said she is very willing to put money into the system to "ensure that everybody has quality health care."

She said, 'I think quality health care is like food, like shelter. It's something that everybody deserves to have."

If parliament passes the bill, the new health care system would be in place by 2026.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Anita Powell wrote this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

sponsor – n. someone who takes the responsibility for someone or something

surgery – n. medical treatment in which a doctor cuts into a patient's body to repair or remove damaged or diseased parts

insurancen. a method of guaranteeing protection or safety for damages, sickness or death

mismanagementn. the act or process of directing or supervising something badly

necessity – n. the quality or condition of being necessary

universaladj. done or experienced by everyone

deserve – v. to be worthy of something

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