Parliament, Wednesday 15 March 2023 – The Portfolio Committee on Health was briefed by the Parliamentary Legal Services and the State Law Advisors on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill.
This committee briefing forms part of the legislative processes for the NHI Bill. The briefing forms part of the process the committee must undertake to ensure that the Bill goes through the proper parliamentary processes. The committee has conducted a public participation process of provincial and virtual public hearings. Following that, the committee received inputs from the Department of Health (which is the sponsor of the Bill) responding to the inputs and recommendations received during the public participation process. Thereafter, the committee conducted clause by clause deliberations of the Bill.
Committee Chairperson Dr Kenneth Jacobs said the briefing today provided the committee with a legal opinion on the Bill. Further engagement will resume next week when the members meet to discuss the legal practitioners’ input.
The Fix the Patent Laws Coalition (FTPL), a group of over 40 organisations working to reform South Africa’s patent laws, welcomes the progressive proposal by South Africa and India for a waiver of all intellectual property in respect of COVID-19 related diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. We have seen how a lack of access to COVID-19 medical tools threatens countries’ ability to respond to the virus, especially developing countries. We believe that this proposal will promote and expedite equitable access to all health technologies in all countries.
We call on all countries to support the proposal to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council for a temporary waiver of all patents on products needed to test, treat or vaccinate against COVID-19, and to act with urgency. COVID-19 is a global health crisis, and one that affects working-class and poor people disproportionately. The world needs bold steps such as this that prioritise the needs of vulnerable populations above profits and above nationalism.
“While the waiver will not by itself lead to access to COVID-19 health technologies, it is an important step towards equitable access,” says Executive Director at SECTION27 and FTPL member Umunyana Rugege. “In South Africa, we would like to see the draft amendments to the Patents Act published without delay to ensure that the legal environment is readied for the introduction of a range of diagnostics, medicines and vaccines.”
The FTPL coalition has called on the South African government to take the following steps to help fight COVID-19:
Put a temporary moratorium on granting patents on COVID-19 related products as they are proven effective.
Automatic compulsory licensing of COVID-19 related health products with existing or pending patents.
Fix the Patent Laws urgently to ensure use of all legal flexibilities to improve access to health products.
The South African government has shown exemplary leadership on the world stage to ensure that developing and middle-income countries are not left behind while wealthy nations secure deals with pharmaceutical companies, and that monopolies do not stand in the way of widespread African access to COVID-19 vaccines. This is an important opportunity for countries to stand in solidarity and support the call that would ensure all countries stand to benefit from efforts to fight the pandemic.
South Africa’s leadership of the African Union and initiatives like the COVAX facility, and the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator have put solidarity before nationalism, and FTPL is fully behind our government in its quest to protect public health and ensure equitable access to medical products.
FTPL has joined a global community of civil society organisations calling for the urgent adoption of the Waiver. You can read the letter from civil society here.
20 civil society alliances in mainly low- and middle-income countries, including the South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance, were awarded grants to accelerate the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants, made by the first Civil Society Solidarity Fund on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) and COVID-19, were announced today by the global NCD Alliance during a high-level online event.
Todd Harper, President of the global NCD Alliance, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic shows many intersections between COVID-19 and NCDs. People living with NCDs are more vulnerable to COVID-19, with a substantially higher risk of becoming severely ill or dying from the virus. The pandemic also impacts the poorest communities around the world and the most vulnerable people in every country. The civil society solidarity fund was born out of the need to tackle NCDs as fundamental to health security and to prevent a reversal of gains made in NCDs prevention and control around the world”.
The fund, totalling $300,000, competitively awarded grants of up to US$15,000 to national and regional NCD alliances. The purpose of the grants is to support alliances to address the critical needs of people living with NCDs during COVID-19 via advocacy and communication activities that will support stronger organisational stability and resilience.
Dr Vicki Pinkney-Atkinson, Director of SA NCDs Alliance, states: “Until the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inequitable fault lines in the health system, NCDs+ are a neglected priority in South Africa. In South Africa, 99% of the people who have died because of COVID-19 are those of us living with NCDs+. The funding is a cause for celebration in an otherwise dark time with record daily number of new infections and deaths. It will allow the participation of people living with NCDs+ to building back a better health system with equity for NCDs prevention and treatment. We can work alongside the government to ensure that NCDs public health plans are equal to those for HIV and meet our needs.”
Katie Dain, CEO of NCD Alliance, added: “This is a first-of-its-kind fund to support NCD civil society organisations (CSOs) response to COVID-19. During pandemics, momentum in several health and sustainable development issues, notably HIV/AIDS, Ebola and climate change, have repeatedly reinforced the critical role of CSOs and community-led efforts in accelerating action from local to global levels. Civil society are proven campaigners, change agents, experts, implementers and watchdogs”.
The millions of South Africans living with NCDs+ are a critical at-risk, vulnerable group during COVID-19. No community is spared from the impacts of COVID-19 or NCDs, affecting rich and poor alike. The COVID-19 pandemic, despite its huge negative impact, offer a policy window of opportunity to work together to build a better health system and society free from the preventable suffering, disability, and death caused by NCDs.
The NCD Alliance Civil Society Solidarity Fund on NCDs and COVID-19 is possible thanks to generous financial contributions of global NCD Alliance’s supporters: The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Access Accelerated, Takeda, AstraZeneca and Upjohn (Pfizer). The Fund received 45 submissions from national and regional alliances across all regions, which were reviewed by a selection committee. The Fund recognises the essential work of NCD advocates, which now becomes even more critical than ever to ensure political and media attention to the needs of people living with NCDs as one of the most vulnerable groups to COVID-19.
The recipients of the Civil Society Solidarity Fund are from Africa, Asia, Europe, Eastern Mediterranean and Latin America:
The 7 PCCC building blocks were developed by the LIVESTRONG Foundation has published the outcome of a symposium on patient-centred cancer care. It research list 7 key building block that can be utilised to deliver cancer care across a variety of settings.