Spotlight first interviewed physician and infectious diseases specialist Dr Arifa Parker in May last year as South Africa’s first wave of COVID-19 was building up. Eleven very difficult months later, Bienne Huisman checks in with Parker to hear how things are going on the frontlines at Tygerberg Hospital.
Biopharmaceuticals are therapeutic drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics in which the active ingredient is produced in a living substance such as eggs or tobacco plants. The living substance acts as a ‘miniature factory’ in which the active ingredient is grown and replicated. Catherine Tomlinson takes a deep dive into the fascinating research and other initiatives in South Africa aimed at spurring local production of these products – and asks why a Cape Town-based company opted to set up a manufacturing plant in Mauritius rather than at home.
South Africa is likely headed for a third wave of COVID-19 infections, experts warn. With no windfall of vaccines in sight, many people at high risk of COVID-19 will remain unvaccinated. Now some doctors and medical ethicists are asking: Is a safe vaccine that could possibly protect them better than nothing?
The World Trade Organization TRIPS council is expected to vote on South Africa and India’s proposed patent waiver on 10 or 11 March which could, if granted, help countries to scale up production of COVID-19 vaccines. But, while the waiver is important, argues Julia Chaskalson, it is also urgent that South Africa should amend its outdated domestic patent laws.
Some foreign nationals in South Africa, their community leaders, human rights lawyers and activists are concerned that their health needs are falling through the cracks. This was compounded during lockdown with some foreign nationals claiming they were refused healthcare and others now concerned they will be excluded from the vaccine rollout. Luvuyo Mehlwana reports.
On 17 February Sr Milanie Bennett administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to President Cyril Ramaphosa. Bienne Huisman tracked her down to learn more about her long journey to this historical moment.
For all the suffering and death the COVID-19 pandemic has caused over the last 12 months, it has arguably also provided a unique opportunity to test some of the mechanisms behind South Africa’s proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) system. The centralised procurement of vaccines and the contracting of doctors, for example, are probably not dissimilar from the arrangements we might see under NHI. Kathryn Cleary asks three leading health experts what lessons, for NHI, we should learn from the COVID-19 response.
In late January, Dr Anban Pillay, Deputy Director-General in South Africa’s National Department of Health, revealed that South Africa would pay more than double the price paid by the European Union (EU) for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. This set off a flurry of questions on how vaccine prices are set and why, in many cases, the prices themselves are not known to the public. Catherine Tomlinson takes a closer look at the issues involved.
The national budget tabled this week shows that planned spending on public health is reduced by a massive R50.3 billion over the next three years. We cannot accept a vaccine versus health system trade-off. Government must both expedite the procurement of vaccines and ensure that provinces have the staff and other capabilities to rapidly roll them out and to maintain and improve the quality of healthcare services, argue writers from SECTION27.
Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman has declined social media calls that he be nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Bienne Huisman spoke to Sooliman about the organisation’s work during the pandemic, his background, and what keeps him going.
Provinces manage the day-to-day running of the public healthcare system in South Africa and provinces will be responsible for the massive logistical effort of getting COVID-19 vaccines from fridges and depots into people’s arms. Elri Voigt has been keeping track of the nine provinces’ plans.