Speech by Maureen Madumise on the Health Budget Vote Debate

7 June 2007

Madam Speaker

It is the bedrock of our country\'s constitution to respect women by accepting and treating them as equals.

Women in many respects contribute on an equal basis in all sectors of society including the economy and women are recognised as the backbone of a nation and certainly that of South Africa.

How we treat women and children is a reflection of the health of a modern, caring society and is also a reflection of how developed and advanced that society is.

The DA promotes the liberal value of an "open society" in which you nurture the individual. Since individuals are not born equal we need to address, as a collective, the needs of those who are disadvantaged.

The ANC believes in community - solving common problems together. This in my view is how you build a caring society.

Madam Speaker

This annual process of engaging with the Department of Health\'s budget is always of critical importance as it gives us a unique opportunity to be critical of our own role as Members of Parliament.

Far more important than that it gives us the opportunity to gauge how far we have come and what we should expect over the next budget period. Whilst there are many positive achievements there are as many challenges that we need to address.

We sometimes underestimate the problems and contradictions that we have inherited as part of our legacy. Of course this makes some uncomfortable when we make reference to our past but the past will not disappear in a short period of thirteen years.

Where we can make a difference and assist is in the area of the maternal health of women and the health of children. We have made significant progress in this area but there is an obvious need to continue to intensify our efforts in the achievement of our objectives.

Deliberate interventions by government have been made to improve access and quality of health care for women and children in South Africa including free health care for pregnant and lactating women and children under the age of six years.

Linked to these is the confidential enquiry into maternal deaths that further informs necessary and even deliberate intervention to ensure that pregnancy and child-birth is a safe experience for women and the new born child.

Maternal Mortality audits are necessary to identify areas of weakness in the obstetric and neonatal services and have been and will continue to be responsible for instigating important changes to policy and interventions.

In understanding the health care needs of women we must also take into account the social and socio-economic challenges the masses of our people are confronted with and have been confronted with for decades and centuries.

When we compare the challenges of the rural poor with those of urban areas we begin to understand the enormous disparities and we are then confronted with the reality of the two economies that President Thabo Mbeki refers to constantly.

Madam Speaker

Key to improving the health of women and children in rural areas is to increase access to Health Services, an element of which is to implement an effective transport system.

Also - placing emphasis on the delivery of Basic Services that includes provision of water and sanitation as well as placing emphasis on the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness and the Integrated Nutrition Programme.

We cannot improve the health of our people by cutting the water supply of the poor as the DA is doing in the Western Cape. It is the most shameful and inhumane act. Health is an integrated continuum of provision of all basic services.

Madam Speaker

South Africa with a small sector with enormous wealth and the contradiction of enormous poverty will continue to create challenges as long as this environment prevails.

There is therefore a need to continue to strengthen the health system to ensure that quality health care is delivered to women and children and equity in the distribution of health resources particularly between urban developed and rural developing areas is achieved.

An area that requires special attention is the issue of TOPS. In order for women to exercise their freedom of choice to end a pregnancy there is clearly a need to strengthen and capacitate health institutions providing this service. We understand that this is a moral issue for some health professionals and we respect their rights as conscientious objectors but we expect them to respect the rights of those who hold a different view.

Clearly, there is a need for this service but it raises the issue again as to how we respect women within our society in spite of the many gains we have made towards achieving gender equity.

We are seeing far less backstreet abortions which resulted in mutilation, injury and many deaths. Providing this service reduces the strain on the resources of our health institutions and therefore requires more support.

Madam Speaker

What is more and more obvious is the critical issue of co-operation and sharing of resources between the public and private sectors. We need to do this not as a deliberate intervention but because we must - indeed we are compelled to.

Health care should and must become less of a business and more of a social responsibility that benefits all of our people.
Through developing a healthy nation we can develop a prosperous one.

The many challenges and objectives we have set as targets by 2015 include the health of women and children as an important indicator in not only our own efforts but indeed the world\'s to meet the Millenium Development Goals with regard to health.

We are familiar with the challenges but I will remind this House nevertheless - these include addressing the challenges of poverty, hunger, access to safe water, reducing maternal and child mortality and the reversal of the prevalence of infectious diseases such as HIV and AIDS, TB and Malaria.

There have been positive developments around maternal and child mortality indicating that our efforts are bearing fruit but it also indicates the need to sustain our efforts to continue and to further improve the lives of women and children.

The Integrated Nutrition Programme has as key strategies many of the things I have referred to earlier but focuses specifically on the promotion of healthy lifestyles through nutrition interventions to combat the spread of HIV, TB and chronic debilitating conditions, maternal mortality and the improved management of communicable diseases.

Other measures we can take, are to ensure ongoing training and support to all those involved in maternal and child healthcare. We should also maintain focus on the Human Resource Plan to continue to address critical issues of staff shortages, career-pathing, as well as an effective recruitment and retention strategy.

As health workers are the backbone of health care delivery we should do everything possible to improve their working conditions.

Madam Speaker

I salute and applaud the valiant and unselfish efforts of our health workers and I know that they will continue to deliver quality service to our people.

They are the key to the success of the programmes to ensure maternal and child health that restores dignity within women.
Madam Speaker - It is time we respect women as equals without reservation.

I support this budget! I thank you.