Message of Support
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party
Programme Director, Dr Dishiki Kalonji; Speaker of the eThekwini Municipality, Councillor Logie Naidoo; Chairman of the KZN Coastal Branch of SAMA, Dr Mergan Naidoo; former CEO of King Edward VIII Hospital, Dr Olaf Baloyi; Editor of The Health Chronicle, Dr Nirvadha Singh; columnists of The Health Chronicle; members of the medical community; esteemed friends.
I am delighted to have been asked to speak this morning at the official launch of The Health Chronicle. Although some people still refer to me as “Doctor” Buthelezi – and I see that is how my name appears on today’s programme – I am not a medical doctor by profession. So I may be out of my depth in this room full of real doctors, specialists and medical gurus!
Nevertheless, I have always immersed myself fully in whatever I become involved in. Thus the universities of Zululand, Cape Town, Tampa, Los Angeles and Boston felt that my contribution to law was significant enough to warrant the bestowing of Honorary LLDs. The Council of Industrial Organisation of the American Federation of Labour felt that my contribution to trade unionism warranted the George Meany Human Rights Award. Pandit Satyapal Sharma of India bestowed on me the Rastriya Pita – Apostle of Peace, for my contribution to pursuing peace. The Bruno H. Schubert Foundation gave me their Conservation Award for my contribution to protecting our natural heritage.
I mention all these honours not to boast, but to illustrate how deeply involved I tend to become in fields that command my attention. And human health is one such field. You may know that I have been a Diabetic for many years, and have managed my Diabetes through a strict diet. It has made me keenly aware of health issues and the importance not only of taking care of yourself, but of equipping yourself with information and knowledge that will help you on this lifelong journey.
Thus, when I heard about the concept behind The Health Chronicle, I was eager to support this initiative. There is an enormous amount of money to be made in the field of healthcare. But this is not about money. The Health Chronicle was born out of a passion to see holistic wellbeing spread throughout Durban’s communities. This passion is evident in the fact that it is a free service, which seeks to make available a broad range of health information.
The team that has been assembled to write for The Health Chronicle draws together a rich treasury of expertise, in recognition of the fact that wellbeing is not only about physical health, but mental, emotional, relational and indeed spiritual health as well. I thank God for the way in which medicine has progressed, even during my lifetime, to the point that we now know so much more about how the human system operates and what it needs to be whole.
Information is the key to health. The difficulty is simply in ensuring that information reaches those who need it. Relying purely on healthcare practitioners to inform our communities about the latest innovations, research and medicine is akin to flying with half a wing. How often do people come in contact with a doctor? And how much time is spent in each consultation? There are severe limitations on the exchange of health information in the doctors’ rooms alone.
Thus we have seen information campaigns being launched by government on the big issues, such as TB and HIV/Aids. Billboards and pamphlets and radio adverts remind us to finish our course of treatment even when we start to feel well, and to take preventative measures against contracting disease.
But what about the lesser issues, that don’t grab the limelight but take an enormous toll on people’s quality of life, and even length of life? Issues like vitamin deficiencies, chronic inflammation, arthritis, depression or glaucoma.
How do we reach people with basic information on taking care of their health, recognising warning signs, noticing symptoms and knowing when to see a doctor?
That is the role of community information campaigns. Which is, no doubt, why the mission of The Health Chronicle is: raising awareness, empowering communities, and developing minds.
I remember so clearly when my own son, Prince Nelisuzulu Benedict Buthelezi, became ill with HIV/Aids. We did not simply accept a regimen of pills and hope for the best. As a family, we read everything we could about the disease and educated ourselves on complimentary treatments, including dietary changes. It was painful losing my son in 2004, and my daughter, Princess Mandisi Sibukakonke, soon thereafter.
But I felt we had armed ourselves with information and had done all that we could. That, at least, brought a measure of comfort. It must be extremely difficult for families to lose loved ones to illness never knowing whether something more could have been done. Information is absolutely vital.
You will notice that I still wear the red Aids ribbon on my lapel every day as a reminder of a fight we have yet to win. My party, the IFP, has waged a powerful battle in this regard. Here in KwaZulu Natal, we rolled out anti-retrovirals to all clinics to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids. Under an IFP administration, we proved that it was possible. Because of this, when national government claimed before the Constitutional Court that the roll-out of anti-retrovirals could not be done, the Court declared that it could, and should be done. Thousands of lives have been saved because of the IFP’s intervention.
Right now, the IFP is championing the Medical Innovation Bill which was tabled by our Member of Parliament, the late Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini. Dr Ambrosini, like me, was not a medical doctor, but a doctor of law. Yet he was compelled to take on the fight against Cancer when he himself was diagnosed with terminal, final stage Lung Cancer.
He took on the fight by arming himself with information. He studied and researched and experimented, considering every available, treatment both conventional and alternative, whether fully tested or not. It was a brave, and some might say dangerous, way to go. But he was not prepared to accept the standard treatment when the standard treatment was bound to fail.
Dr Ambrosini, with the assistance of Adv. Robin Stransham-Ford – who too had cancer and passed away this week and whose funeral I attended in Cape Town on Thursday – drafted the Medical Innovation Bill, in an attempt to allow doctors to innovate where reasonable grounds suggest there is benefit to be had, without fear of legal action. They wanted to make every possible beneficial treatment accessible to patients, together with the full background of information, so that no one would have to make an uninformed decision about their own health and wellbeing.
At the moment, the Bill is before the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health, where it must pass the test of “desirability” before being tabled for debate in Parliament. Unfortunately, some have mislabelled this Bill as an attempt to legalise marijuana, which it is not. It does address the use of cannabis derivatives for medical treatment, but cannabis is only one of the innovative treatments seeing phenomenal results around the world. We need to open the door to research and innovation in South Africa as well.
Let me end my remarks there, however, for this is a field on which I could talk non-stop. I feel strongly about protecting health and wellbeing. Our country is not equipped to meet the healthcare needs of our population. It is essential that people are empowered to help themselves; to keep themselves healthy and to know what to do when something goes out of balance.
I therefore want to thank the team at The Health Chronicle for what you are working to achieve. May this publication be blessed with wide readership and deep support. I wish you well on the journey to good health.
IFP Media, Parliament