Joint statement by the Treatment Action Campaign and SECTION27: The growing crisis at the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) threatens access to essential health care services, particularly for HIV and TB
JOHANNESBURG, 1st AUGUST 2017 – The ongoing strike at the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) is a disaster for critical and lifesaving laboratory services, but also the fragile stability of this institution, the struggling public health system and poor people who heavily rely on it. As a result of the strike we understand that the NHLS is only able to conduct a handful of essential tests with the small number of staff on duty. Critical and lifesaving tests are not being done and people will die. The situation for people living with HIV and TB is dire.
The current crisis at the NHLS is the culmination of ongoing upheavals, mis-management, corruption, massive bleeding of competent staff and an inability to protect this national asset. The TAC and SECTION27 have for a long time drawn attention to the challenges at the NHLS and the urgent need to address it.
We commend Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Director-General Precious Matsoso for their efforts to intervene. However any short-term solution – for reasons we explain below- will simply be a plaster on a bleeding and festering sore.
We support employees of the NHLS in their quest for a reasonable salary increase and working conditions. We commend them for exposing corruption and call for an urgent investigation into allegations made by NEHAWU and others.
However we appeal to unions working in the health sector not to conduct wage disputes in a manner which jeopardises people’s lives. 70% of all clinical decisions are based on a pathology result. That means that millions of people depend on these essential services. The break down of services as a result of mismanagement and the current strike is placing lives at risk, mostly those who cannot afford to pay for private tests and babies, who will die or face catastrophic health consequences far from the public eye.
SECTION27 and TAC are willing to assist in whichever way possible, including meeting with the leadership of NEHAWU to explore ways of strengthening the NHLS and ensuring proper working conditions for all its employees.
Although the strike may be nearly over the crisis at the NHLS is not. The NHLS faces a debt crisis that makes Eskom pale in comparison. We are informed that the NHLS may run out of money in November.
Underlying these problems are the failure of provincial governments to pay their NHLS bills. We are made to understood that Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal between them owe the NHLS billions of Rands. Their failure to pay their bills, money that has already been budgeted for laboratory services through conditional grants, is criminal and is endangering countless lives.
We therefore urgently appeal to both Premiers Makhura and Mchunu to step in and order their health departments to pay their outstanding bills for services delivered. We do not wish to see another situation where the Premiers only starts taking notice of a crisis when we point out the countless deaths and suffering.
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