Racial Discrimination still rife in African public healthcare systems

An interview with ARASA Advocacy Officer, Thuthukile Mbatha for International Day for the Elimination against Racial Discrimination

Despite the end of colonialism and Apartheid, racial discrimination still occurs in Africa, especially in South Africa, and has a huge impact on our access to sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR). To celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Advocacy Officer to the AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (ARASA), Thuthukile Mbatha, says that in order to ensure SRHR for all Africans we must make them aware of their rights and continue to press for policy reform on the continent.

According to Mbatha, racism is systemically entrenched in our healthcare systems, with the greatest divide in service provision being most apparent when you compare public healthcare in affluent neighbourhoods to public healthcare in informal settlements and rural areas.

“The quality of healthcare depends on the facility’s geographical location. We are still dealing with the remnants of colonial architecture. Look at a public clinic in the wealthy suburb of Sandton, in Johannesburg that serves mostly white people. It’s clean, well-equipped and the staff are responsive. Cross the street to the clinic in the informal settlement, Alexandra and it is an entirely different story. It’s over-crowded, the service is terrible and there is no respect for the confidentiality of the patients”, she said.

Mbatha further stated that racial discrimination is so entrenched in the minds of African people, that they accept poor healthcare without question. She said that public healthcare has gradually deteriorated across the continent and racial discrimination is inextricably linked to classist mentalities.

“In many African countries, the right to quality public healthcare is enshrined in national Constitutions and should be an immediately attainable right. Unfortunately, the majority of those suffering from shoddy healthcare services are poor, black, Africans. African leaders who can afford to pay for quality private healthcare when they are ill, do not invest in public healthcare for their people. During the Covid-19 pandemic we saw how quickly funds were made available to respond to the health crisis. The excuse that there is no funding to improve public healthcare systems, is unacceptable”, said Mbatha.

In order to end racial discrimination in public healthcare and ensure SRHR for all Africans, Mbatha says it will take a concerted effort by the public, civil society and governments.

“Firstly, we need to ensure that healthcare practitioners learn to treat all Africans with dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race or socio-economic background. The neo-colonialist mentality of having absolute authority over others as a civil servant, needs to end. We also need to empower Africans by making sure they understand their right to fair treatment in the public health sector. And finally, as civil society organisations, we have a responsibility to pressure policy makers to make funding for SRHR a priority”, she said.

Mbatha was appointed as Advocacy Officer for ARASA in 2021 and promotes bodily autonomy and integrity, and awareness surrounding sexual and reproductive health rights across the continent. To access ARASA’s free resources on these issues or to get involved in their campaigns, visit arasa.info