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Andris Piebalgs

EU Commissioner for Development

South Africa: Launch of the €126 million new health care programme to fight HIV and tuberculosis

Community launch of the EU-financed "Primary Health Care Sector Policy Support Programme"

Mamelodi (South Africa), 14 September 2011

I am very pleased to be here today for the launch of this Primary Health Care Sector Policy Support Programme. The presence of so many prominent figures shows just how important programmes such as this are to the people of South Africa.

Indeed, the programme we are launching together today is one of the largest EU health programmes anywhere in the world. It will invest €126 million – almost 1.3 billion rand – in supporting the South African government's efforts to improve access to public health services and to increase the quality of service delivery of primary health care through the district health system.

Moreover, with its focus on better Primary Health Care access and quality, the programme will contribute to the government's four key objectives for the South African health sector. These objectives focus on decreasing maternal and child mortality; increasing life expectancy; combating HIV and AIDS and decreasing the burden of disease from tuberculosis; and strengthening health systems' effectiveness.

Improving access to quality health care services at the most basic level for all, especially the most vulnerable, is a major challenge for South Africa. Health promotion and health prevention will have their part to play. They will translate, for example, into counselling pregnant women about their pregnancies, and into teaching children about hygiene and sanitation. But a well-functioning health care system with sufficient numbers of skilled and well-managed staff will also be crucial. The health programme we are funding and launching today will, we hope, support the government's efforts to improve primary health care.

Since 1994 the EU has committed some 300 M€ – roughly 3 billion rand – to the South African health sector, chiefly to support primary health care and fight HIV/AIDS. Currently the EU is supporting the Department of Health's "Expanded Partnerships Programme for the Delivery of Primary Health Care", which has trained over 19 000 community health workers, providing home-based care services to close to 1 million people. It is exactly this sort of initiative – getting health care to people on the ground – that we encourage.

Of course, health is just one important aspect of the European Union's longstanding relationship with South Africa, which of late has blossomed into a strategic partnership. Our regular political, economic, and social dialogue will continue tomorrow with the annual summit between President Zuma and EU Council President van Rompuy.

Development cooperation is an important element of that partnership. This is reflected in the overall development cooperation budget of 980 million euro (or about 10 million rand) for the period 2007-2013. We have a "value added" approach to development cooperation in South Africa. This translates into enabling the Government to identify innovative, creative, experimental – and even risky – activities to address systemic issues. If successful, such activities may then be replicated later with the government's own resources. We take a similar approach with civil society organisations which complement the government's own programmes.

A basic strand of our development cooperation is our shared commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, notably to reduce maternal and child mortality, and to halt the spread of HIV and AIDS by 2015.

The EU recognises that South Africa faces enormous challenges, especially with the burden of disease caused by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and the negative trends in maternal and child mortality. Going forward, the EU is ready to support South Africa as it works to improve its health systems and reduce maternal and child mortality. Likewise, we will continue to support the South African government in its battle against HIV/AIDS. That battle is well and truly underway with the ongoing HIV Counselling and Testing Campaign. The Department of Health is to be congratulated for its approach to this horrendous disease. We appreciate the government's holistic approach in screening HIV and simultaneously tuberculosis, high blood pressure and diabetes. We also applaud the South African government and in particular the Department of Health for the success in massively bringing down the costs of anti-retroviral drugs. This will help the government drastically increase the number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment.

The EU will also provide assistance in developing the new National HIV Strategic Plan and strengthening South Africa's National AIDS Council, especially through direct support from Member States such as Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and Sweden.

The fight against HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis is a major priority for the EU. As you may well be aware, the EU is the largest contributor to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, providing more than half of the funding.

The EU also provides substantial funding – close to 200 million euro – for health research. Most of the funding is allocated to clinical trials for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership. A further significant amount is focused on research into strengthening health systems through the Commission's research framework programme.

Another issue which we would like to raise is the one of Human Resources for Health. The EU fully supports the implementation of the WHO's Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, approved in May 2010. All 193 UN Member States have agreed to implement this voluntary code. In light of this, the European Commission is actively discussing circular migration issues with South Africa as part of our health sector policy dialogue to help ensure a more strategic global response.

The EU is aware that the South African government is developing a new National Health Insurance system to provide quality and affordable health care to all South Africans, based on the principle of solidarity and on the right to health care as laid down in South Africa's constitution. Solidarity is also one of the four key principles which guide all policies and actions in health in the European Union. The other three relate to quality of care, equity and universal coverage. We are ready to welcome you and your colleagues to Brussels and to Member States to exchange information on our different experiences in health systems.

The programme we are launching today is a clear example of the solidarity we feel with the South African population. I hope that it will indeed help improve health outcomes in South Africa and reduce maternal and child mortality. These are laudable goals and they deserve our full support.

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