Published in the Mail and Guardian.
What, if anything, does the private healthcare sector have to offer the rural poor?
By Daygan Eagar
Perched on a hill overlooking the N2 on the outskirts of East London is a new private hospital managed by one of South Africa's largest private healthcare groups.
The hospital offers what it describes as "world-class healthcare that is achieved through a combination of unparalleled quality and clinical excellence". In many ways, its position on this hill marks the gradual expansion of middle-class suburbia into former resort towns of the Eastern Cape; it is a conspicuous symbol of "progress" and "development".
As you pass this facility driving towards Mthatha, about 230km away, you start to notice a distinct shift in the landscape from a mix of industry and urban life to the strikingly beautiful open spaces of the rural Eastern Cape. This beauty, however, belies the many hard realities rural communities in this part of the country face every day when trying to access healthcare services of any kind. Here there are few "world-class" facilities.
You need only to look at media reports on the long-standing health crisis in the province to understand that the public health system is wholly under-resourced, understaffed and perpetually on the verge of collapse. To say that rural communities have particularly poor access to healthcare would be an understatement.