Independent Online, 07 November 2002, Brain drain hits KZN health hard

KwaZulu-Natal's overworked health department is understaffed by more than 10 000 people, largely because of vacancies caused by the huge number of qualified nurses who have left to work overseas.

Inadequate funds and delays in training new nurses to replace those who have left have also exacerbated the staffing situation in provincial hospitals and clinics.

But despite the severe constraints under which the remaining health personnel are now working, the department has made great strides in curbing malaria and cholera and has made inroads with its HIV/Aids programmes.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday the department had made far-reaching impacts in the reduction of malaria cases and had almost totally wiped out cholera in the province.

Briefing the finance portfolio committee during the mid-year budget review hearing in Pietermaritzburg, Mkhize said his department was short of 10 000 nurses.

The mid-year budget review is a new feature introduced by the committee to beef up its oversight role and to ensure that funds allocated to the departments are spent timeously and for their stated objectives.

Understaffing in the health department, includes 6 000 nursing staff and 4 000 in administrative and other specialised areas.

Successes

Mkhize said despite this severe understaffing the department had recorded "tremendous successes" in its fight against malaria and cholera.

He said two years ago there had been more than 47 000 cases of malaria in the province, but these had now been reduced by 80 percent to fewer than 9 000 cases.

"That is an achievement done by people who are understaffed. Cholera is now almost forgotten, but two years ago we had over 120 000 cases of cholera."

He said his department had also managed to roll out the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids programme (PMCTC) to most of the hospitals in the province and was now rolling out the voluntary testing programme with at least 12 000 people tested.

Mkhize said the department was now rolling out the programme of making available anti-retrovirals to victims of rape in some clinics and hospitals in the province.

With regard to expenditure, Mkhize said the department had initially projected for over R400-million expenditure as a result of funds spent in fighting cholera and preparing for the rolling out of the PMTCT programme.

However, he said there were now strong indications that the department would be reimbursed either by the national or provincial treasury for this over-expenditure.

The department was now projecting overexpenditure of
R30 million.