When the Medical Research Council (MRC) presented its report at the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health this week, I was left feeling like I had heard a good news – bad news story. Because I am a positive person, I’ll give you the good news first, even though it is mostly facts that have been repeated here more than once.
- We are seeing great strides in the mortality rate, with a 43% drop in child deaths and a 20% reduction in adult deaths. Life expectancy has increased by 6% to 60 years, mostly because of the increased number of people receiving ARV treatment.
- The MRC had achieved outstanding research results in the past year with the release of Bedaquiline, a new treatment and therapy for drug resistant TB.
- South Africa is the only African country to have implemented the pneumococcal vaccine, and it was the Respiratory & Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit produced the evidence to support the introduction of the vaccine.
- The mother to child transmission of HIV was reduced from 25% in 2011 to an amazing 2.7% this year. What an incredible achievement!
- After research showed that up to 20% of women in SA experience forced sex, new research into gender based violence was commissioned.
Now for the bad news…
The MRC is in a financial crisis. A R1m profit in the last financial year has turned into a R15m deficit this year.
The biggest change in health in SA is the NHI – the MRC has no research programme to generate data and evidence to guide this change and to support the Department of Health in this initiative. Why does the MRC not refocus its priorities?
A sobering letter from the South African Committee of Medical Deans was included in the presentation. In it the Deans say “The MRC has lost its position as a leader and custodian of South African Medical and Health Research and agree that this situation needs urgent attention”.
It sounds terrible, but this is also a potentially good news story as the Deans congratulated Prof Salim S Abdool Karim on his bold vision for the restructuring of the MRC.
I look forward to seeing how his plans come to fruition. A well-funded, well supported medial research unit is vital for the future of our nation’s health.