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The Future gets a Clean Bill of (Public) Health

The good news is that the public health sector in South Africa is growing, and with the government’s planned National Health Insurance financing system, which is steadily moving forward, the sector is set to continue growing. The bad news is, there aren’t enough public health officials to fill the gaps. According to the South African Nursing Council, the severe lack of nurses specifically, will have a dire impact on access to care in South Africa.

Although science has advanced a great deal, human beings are far from immortal and will need healthcare, for the foreseeable future, anyway. This brings us to the list of critical job skills published by the government.

The critical skills deficit

The Department of Home Affairs has a critical skills list, this is an inventory of jobs for which the quotas are not being filled; there are too many vacancies and not enough qualified South Africans to take them up. Public health professions feature strongly on this list.

The South African government’s public health critical skills list:

  • Medical Superintendent/Public Health Manager
  • Public Health Physician
  • General and Specialist Medical Practitioner
  • Hospital Pharmacist
  • Nursing Professionals
  • Veterinarian
  • Registered Nurse (child and family health)
  • Retail Pharmacist

Why does this list matter?

A large portion of South Africa’s population still don’t have access to basic medical care due to staff shortages and a lack of infrastructure, but in this arises an opportunity for study and career possibilities in the field of public health.

South Africa’s public health system needs more than doctors, nurses and pharmacists, it needs public health officers. A strong public health system can change the face of communicable disease such as tuberculosis and HIV, bringing infections to a halt.

The illnesses which are the top killers in South Africa – according to the latest Global Burden of Disease report released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in association with the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – are:

  1. Tuberculosis
  2. Diabetes
  3. Heart disease
  4. Cerebrovascular disease (e.g. Stroke and vascular dementia)
  5. HIV/Aids

These can be managed and treated with the implementation of strong public health policies, professions, and systems.

The role the public health sector plays in eradicating these diseases

The public health system’s aim is to maintain and strengthen the health and well-being of people. Officials working in this sector contribute to the delivery of crucial public health services, they also report on information provided by surveillance and health information. They have the power to influence policymakers, systems, healthcare providers, and administrative agencies involved in the control of public health problems and disease. They have the power to change and save lives.

Is the public health sector for you?

If the following list of functions and duties interest you, you may want to take a leap into the public health sector.

Are you interested in:

  • Being part of the system that dictates how care is dispensed
  • The coordination and implementation of health resources, social services, and public safety
  • Monitoring tools such as screening, laboratory records, and vital information recognising health risks
  • The behavioural causes of diseases
  • Disease prevention programmes
  • Risk reduction
  • Recognise groups at threat for specific preventable diseases
  • Epidemiological research
  • Analysis, alternate solutions, and suggestions
  • Delivering details about potential health risks and treatments to the media, public, healthcare experts, and national health regulators
  • Manage or coordinate the work of doctors, nurses, statisticians, or other staff members
  • Educate or train medical teams
  • The design, implementation, or assessment of health service delivery systems

Prepare for the public health sector’s growth

Despite the 29.1% unemployment rate in South Africa at the end of 2019, according to StatsSA, the public health sector and the opportunities it presents are set to continue growing, creating thousands more job opportunities for citizens willing to take the leap and study towards a public health qualification.