National Assembly Chamber
Honourable House Chairperson, Honourable Minister;
The vast majority of South Africans, our poor and most vulnerable, have no recourse to private medical-aid and therefore no recourse to private medical treatment. They have no choice but to attend at our public hospitals and clinics.
Some of Our public hospitals and clinics are in crisis; From Infrastructure to medical equipment to medical supplies to excessive absenteeism of staff and lack of skilled professionals. We are in the midst of a perfect storm in terms of the state of public healthcare in South Africa.
Coupled to this, we are chasing our home grown medical talent away. Our tertiary institutions cannot accommodate many of the student applications to study medicine each year. This places many students in the position of having to seek, at great expense to themselves and their families, costly medical tuition overseas.
What occurs upon their return is even more of a travesty. Many of them are advised that their degrees are not recognized here in South Africa and if they are, they are still subject to additional draconian regulation by the HPCSA and exams before they are permitted to practice medicine.
We are of the opinion that entire system in respect of foreign qualified medical practitioners requires a ‘reengineering’. Firstly a database of accepted international institutions and medical degrees should be provided by the department to all students having to travel abroad for medical studies. Secondly, HPCSA regulation must be reworked so as to ensure the smooth ‘re-entry’ of foreign qualified medical practitioners into South African medical practice.
Honourable Chairperson, on 19 February 2014, the Hon. Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini made an impassioned plea to the President. He stood in the National Assembly, months after doctors said he should have died of terminal Lung Cancer, and said –
“I plead with you to provide a voice on behalf of the many people in my position who do not have a voice. Cancer is the greatest pandemic this country is facing. People are dying because of bad policies and bad laws, which we can change. There are available cancer treatments which are not made available from a legal viewpoint… I was supposed to die many months ago and I am here because I had the courage of taking illegal treatments in Italy in the form of Bicarbonate of Sodium and here in South Africa in the form of cannabis… There is no rational argument for continuing to deprive medical marijuana to people like me who need it.”
The following day, Dr Oriani-Ambrosini tabled a Private Members Bill to return to doctors the discretion to prescribe innovative treatments and therapies to terminal patients in government authorised facilities, under the control of government. It opened the way for medical innovation and research into alternative therapies.
It was the immediate answer to the unsustainable burden which Cancer is currently placing on our public healthcare system, and will continue to place on our health care system in years to come. It opened the door for medical tourism and placed South Africa at the forefront of medical innovation, a space we were destined to occupy since the first successful heart transplant.
The President thanked Dr Oriani-Ambrosini and committed Government to heed his plea. Now it is up to us to take that further.
Progress has been hampered by the breadth of issues the Bill encompassed. It is time to extract the most important aspect, that of medical innovation, and shelve the rest for later debate.
If we can untie the hands of the medical field through an amendment to the Medical Innovation Bill, that’s great. But we are not married to a Private Members Bill. If the same can be achieved through amendments to existing legislation, we welcome that too.
There are too many people suffering, Honourable Minister. We need to give them options, not turn them into criminals and leave them at the mercy of unregulated products and producers.
Already in 2013 research was placed before Government proving the benefits of non-psychotropic cannabis derivatives for pain relief and shrinking tumours, which offers an alternative to radiation therapy. And it is not only Cancer that can be treated. It is effective for Diabetes, Glaucoma, Epilepsy and a range of other disease our nation faces.
In the words of Dr Oriani-Ambrosini, “I admire our Minister of Health. He has the guts and backbone that are required in his job… He bears the incredible burden of creating a healthier society.”
Honourable Minister, I share Dr Ambrosini’s conviction. You are passionate about your portfolio, you yourself being a medical Doctor. This is an opportunity for us to stand together in the interests of all South African’s, setting aside petty politics and accomplish a great work. As Dr Ambrosini made a plea to the Honourable President, I make a similar plea to you, let’s make medical innovation a reality in South Africa. Let us open the doors to new possibilities. Let us make a South Africa a world leader in medical innovation.
The IFP supports this budget. I thank you.
Mr Narend Singh, MP
083 788 5954
IFP Media, Parliament