The South African government is exploring options to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines when they become available, says the National Treasury.

The commitment is contained in the 2020 Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, delivered to Parliament on Wednesday.

National Treasury said the options include participation in the COVAX facility, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to future vaccines.

The national and provincial governments have already reprioritised R20 billion and allocated about R2.9 billion in new funding to the health sector during 2020/21 to support the public health response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“This funding was used to purchase protective and medical equipment, employ additional staff and upgrade facilities,” said the Treasury.

While COVID-19 cases have significantly declined since July, the department said the health sector is now addressing backlogs in other service areas, such as elective surgeries, while maintaining capacity in case of another wave of infections.

“The course of the pandemic remains uncertain. As the economy opens up, continued efforts to contain the spread of the virus will be required,” reads the report.

The department said, over the medium term, greater efficiency and prioritisation will be required to protect service delivery in areas such as primary healthcare, immunisation, and HIV prevention and treatment.

In this regard, large spending reductions in the provincial equitable share formula, which is the main funding instrument for health, will require significant restructuring of provincial health services, with a focus on efficiency savings.

While the much-anticipated National Health Insurance could improve healthcare services from both public and private providers, progress had been slow.

The National Health Insurance Bill is being processed by Parliament and capacity building within the national Department of Health has been delayed. Nonetheless, the Treasury said, there are useful lessons from public and private sector collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Treasury said it set aside provisional funding from 2021/22 to build the Tygerberg Regional Hospital and Klipfontein Hospital in the Western Cape, subject to certain conditions.

These hospitals are expected to alleviate pressure on existing health facilities in the areas with rapid population growth.

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