THOUGHT LEADERSHIP ARTICLE
PLUGGING SOUTH AFRICA’S HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE GAP
Gap Infrastructure Corporation Chief Executive Officer Roelof van den Berg
Seven in every ten South Africans are dependent on public clinics, hospitals and other public institutions when they are ill or injured. But households living in rural areas are often impacted by unequal access to healthcare and are forced to travel great distances to urban areas for more advanced medical treatment.
Notably, research shows that while an impressive 98% of the population live within at least two hours of a government hospital in case of emergencies, little over half or 58% of the country’s district hospitals offer surgical capacity in the form of a surgical provider and a functional operating theatre.
Further underscoring South Africa’s growing health infrastructure backlog, it was recently revealed that as many as 265 state hospitals and 1,903 primary healthcare facilities require urgent upgrades and maintenance to bring them up to acceptable standards.
Given the vital importance of public healthcare, South Africa therefore needs to urgently prioritise investments into health infrastructure to address the current backlog and plug the resources gap within this space.
As a result, it’s encouraging to see that provincial health departments responsible for overseeing district hospitals have significantly increased their expenditure over the past few years. In fact, six of the ten provincial government departments that recorded the largest capital expenditure increases between 2020 and 2021 were all health departments.
Likewise, Gap Infrastructure Corporation (GIC) is honoured to be playing an instrumental role in bridging the gap through lending our infrastructure development expertise to world-class projects such as the state-of-the-art New Mapulaneng Hospital in Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga.
Home to more than half a million people, the Bushbuckridge community faces a number of challenges including an official unemployment rate of some 52.1% and a youth unemployment rate of 64.6%. In terms of infrastructure, the numbers are even more shocking, with only 6.8% of households boasting a flush toilet with connected sewerage and 11.9% of households with access to piped water within their dwellings.
Scheduled for completion in 2025, the New Mapulaneng Hospital will offer comprehensive primary healthcare services to meet the growing needs of the community, including family medicine, paediatric services, psychiatry, eye care and geriatric care. Critically, GIC is specifically involved in constructing the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), an isolation and sub-acute ward, a surgical and orthopaedic ward, a tuberculosis ward, and a mental health ward, significantly improving the lives of those in the Ehlanzeni District for generations to come.
With so many surrounding households living in poverty, community involvement in the hospital project has also been a strategic priority from the onset, which is why GIC has employed local people and SMME’s from the area to assist with earthworks, and civil and building work operations. Through providing a steady source of income and upskilling these employees, we hope to play a meaningful role in stimulating economic development and job creation in the area.
Ultimately, it’s vital to recognise that quality health infrastructure can play a leading role in driving sustainable socio-economic development by creating crucial income opportunities in rural areas. But it’s also important to fulfilling the country’s constitutional promise to provide all South Africans with equal access to healthcare and ensuring that no one is forgotten or left behind.