Mthatha residents have called for the speedy enactment of the National Health Insurance Bill (NHI) to assist the ailing health system in the Eastern Cape. They made submissions at public hearings held by the Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health.

The committee is crisscrossing the country to get public views on the draft NHI Bill. The public hearings were an opportunity for villagers to vent their frustrations.

They have described the health care system as appalling. They cited long and dangerous journeys to facilities, ageing infrastructure, and staff and medication shortages as some of the biggest problems.

“We travel through rivers and we are vulnerable to thugs who come and rape us,” says one of the residents.

Critics, among them the Democratic Alliance (DA), say the NHI will not fix the country’s ailing health care system. This is rejected by labour federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

“Those who criticise the NHI are those who are benefiting in the current systems and are leaning to the right wing. The downtrodden welcome this initiative because it will improve their quality of healthcare. But those who are benefiting are against it because it doesn’t affect them,” says Cosatu Eastern Cape Chairperson Tabile Kunene.

The committee says the Bill is likely to be passed into law 2020 but will only be fully implemented in 2026.

“Infrastructural and operational factors should be fixed before the NHI Bill is passed into law. In April next year, we will make our submissions. By 2020, the president might sign it into law,” says Health Portfolio Committee Chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo.

The hearings move to King William’s Town on Monday. The public has until the end of the week to make submissions.