Zweli Mkhize says it’s time to refocus on other illnesses amid Covid-19 battle

Zweli Mkhize says attention now needs to turn to other diseases, as SA ‘catches up’ after the peak of the Covid-19 crisis.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

While SA’s Covid-19 recovery rate continues to rise, health minister Zweli Mkhize says it’s time to refocus on other illnesses such as TB, HIV and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the era of Covid-19.

Mkhize, who was addressing a Masoyise Health Programme seminar on Thursday, said reprioritising other illnesses was very important during this period as SA emerges from the devastation caused by the pandemic.

To date, SA has 698,184 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 1,770 new cases identified in the latest reporting period and a total of 18,309 deaths.

The cumulative number of tests done to date is 4,481,354, with 22,609 new tests conducted since the last report.

The recoveries now total 628,301, which translates to a recovery rate of 90%.

Mkhize said studies found that deaths due to HIV, TB, and malaria over the next five years could rise by up to 10%, 20%, and 36%, respectively, as a direct consequence of the pandemic.

He said the department was concerned that HIV testing had fallen by nearly half and that TB testing and primary health care access by carers and children fell by between 9% and 25%.

“The department of health has devised an aggressive catch-up strategy to ensure that we recapture that spirit of health-seeking behaviour and also capitalise on the infrastructure and public-private partnership gains we made during the Covid-19 surge,” Mkhize said.

Reprioritising TB, HIV, and other NCDs in the mining sector was important because of SA’s “special history of respiratory diseases”, particularly pneumoconiosis and TB, he said.

“The industry now faces a unique challenge where there is possible interaction between lung damage caused by Covid-19 and the existing lung diseases in the industry.

“I would also assume that the industry TB, HIV and NCDs programmes have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, similar to other programmes worldwide.”

The minister said his department will study recommendations so it can integrate and align them in a cohesive response to the public health challenges and strive towards the attainment of universal health coverage.

“2020 will go down in history as one of the greatest tests ever endured by humanity,” he said.

“The key message here is that of partnership with government, labour movements, civil society and the community, so that we can conquer the scourge of HIV, TB, non-communicable diseases and Covid-19.”


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