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South Africa mulls proposal to merge health institutes

South Africa’s government wants to merge several national health bodies into a single institution in a bid to unite the country’s ‘pockets of excellence’ in different fields of health training and research.

The National Public Health Institute of South Africa will be formed by merging three Johannesburg-based bodies: the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, the National Institute of Occupational Health and the National Cancer Registry.

The three will be supplemented by a freshly-created National Institute of Injury and Violence and a new National Institute of Non-Communicable Diseases.

The bill envisions NAPHISA acting like the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be responsible for disease surveillance and management systems, and liaise with international bodies.

A call for comments on the bill that would set up NAPHISA opened on 11 July. The public can comment until 28 July. Public hearings will take place at Parliament on 15-17 August.

“The NAPHISA will be used as a vehicle to provide coordinated and integrated disease and injury surveillance data in the Republic and to enhance the effectiveness of health systems,” the bill states.

NAPHISA will be established over four financial years up to 2019/20. A mammoth R2.04 billion (US$181 million) is budgeted for the institute in total over that period. NIVIP and NINCD will receive R20m each in their first financial year of operation, 2017/18.

The institute will test levels of contaminants and harmful substances to protect workers from toxic metal exposure, pesticides and other harmful compounds. It will also devise ways of disseminating its findings widely, including to the minister of health.

The institute will establish labs for specialised purposes such as pathogen detection, operational medicine and occupational hygiene, surveillance and monitoring, response to outbreaks, and prevention or control of infectious diseases.

The NAPHISA board will consist of 14 members. Half will be experts in: communicable and noncommunicable diseases, cancer surveillance, injury and prevention of violence, occupational health, field epidemiology, and environmental health.

The other members are the CEO and the chief financial officer, a representative from the Department of Health, a legal and an economics expert, a “community representative”, and a member nominated by the public health departments of universities.