Universal healthcare a “fundamental human right”

Symposium explores ways forward for National Health Insurance

“The provision of universal healthcare cover for all South Africans is becoming an increasingly pressing issue in this county and it is critical that we thoroughly explore the best and most efficient means of achieving it prior to the implementation of National Health Insurance [NHI].”

This is the view of the Principal Officer of the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS), Dr Guni Goolab, who was speaking at the GEMS ninth annual Symposium, a highlight in the country’s healthcare calendar, which kicked off in Soweto today.

The Symposium, which is being attended by more than 400 local and international policy makers, academics, business leaders, funders, healthcare providers, healthcare scientists and various other stakeholders on 29 September and 30 September, is being held under the theme: “10 years on: Towards universal healthcare – A case for primary healthcare provision and outcomes”.

“In its ninth year of existence as a provider of healthcare cover to Government employees, many of whom did not previously enjoy such a benefit, GEMS can now reflect on the role it has played within the healthcare sector and consider our successes and learnings in pursuit of our mandate to provide cost-effective cover to South Africans,” added Dr Goolab.

“The experience we have garnered in our efforts to broaden access to healthcare not only within GEMS, but also nationally and internationally, over the last decade, and the numerous lessons we have all learned along the way, form the focus of this symposium. We are grateful to all of the local and international participants who have come to share their wisdom and immense expertise.”

“GEMS became operational a decade ago and will be concluding its current three year strategic plan cycle at the end of this year. We are now in a position to consider the impact we have had, and to build on the experience to ensure that we can continue playing a significant role in response to the national imperative of providing universal, quality healthcare to all South Africans.”

“It is our hope that the event will assist to meaningfully inform on universal health cover provision and ultimately assist us to frame ways forward when it comes to the implementation of the NHI, one of the most important initiatives in the history of healthcare in South Africa,” said Dr Goolab.

GEMS Executive, Communication and Member Affairs, Lizwe Nkonyana says that the symposium will consist of a number of panels, in which various appropriate subjects will be discussed and deliberated over by a panel of thought leaders, researchers and industry experts.


“We are tremendously excited about this year’s symposium, which will be exploring the experience of the local medical schemes sector in its efforts to broaden access to healthcare and consider what the industry can bring to the table in terms of the NHI into the future. Some of our international speakers will be talking on their local experiences on the provision of universal healthcare.”


The panel discussion subjects that are being covered include: “Using universal healthcare principles to improve health outcomes”, “Operational models for universal healthcare provision” and “Strengthening public healthcare facilities for effective delivery of universal care”. The keynote address entitled ‘Health is a Constitutional Right’ was by Advocate Louisa B Zondo, Chief Executive officer, Public Protector South Africa.

Speakers and panel experts include a range of local and international experts including Mr Palo Carlo Belli, Lead Economist and Programme Leader, World Bank; Dr Pumza Dyantyi, Eastern Cape MEC for Health; Mr Thomas Roubal, Health Economist, World Health Organization; Mr Vishal Brijlal, NHI Coordinator, Cabinet Office; Mr Peter Devearaux-Isaacs, Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office, National Health Insurance Bahamas; Dr Sam Rossolimos, Healthcare Planning and Management Consultant and Healthcare Lead, Accenture SA Management Consulting; Mr Moremi Nkosi, Technical Specialist for NHI Policy, National Department of Health; as well as a number of other thought leaders and GEMS executives and stakeholders.

“As GEMS considers the provision of universal healthcare to be a fundamental human right it was decided to symbolically hold the symposium at Freedom Square in Soweto this year. We are looking forward to sharing our experiences and a highly productive discussion on a subject that is critical to our shared future as South Africans,” concluded Nkonyana.