Govt considers value of grants in tough economic times

The government is considering increasing the value of social grants in order to soften the blow of high food prices, Health Director General Thami Mseleku said on Tuesday. He was briefing reporters at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on progress made by the government social cluster.

“What we are then saying is that government is looking at whether we could raise the social grants so that they could actually keep the value with the increased food and fuel prices. That’s one of the measures being explored ...
not to increase the number of grants, but the value of grants.”

This comes after the Congress of South African Trade Unions indicated it was planning a strike on Wednesday to protest against rising food, fuel and electricity prices.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who chaired the meeting, said: “Poverty, hunger and malnutrition continue to present serious challenges which have an impact on the health of our people. This problem is now lately compounded by steep fuel and food costs which make it increasingly difficult for our people to access even basic foodstuffs.”

The minister, who coughed several times during the briefing, indicated that she had been admitted to a Johannesburg hospital after contracting bronchitis and flu. She was discharged from hospital on Tuesday.

Commenting on whether a national food-price regulator was being considered, Mseleku said: “There is no intention yet to regulate prices. We’ve emphasised that several times, that the measures that we’re looking at are not necessarily at this stage, including price regulation.”

Tshabalala-Msimang called on people to grow their own vegetables.

With regard to the progress made by the government’s food task team, she said: “We submitted a report to Cabinet and we’re being asked to do additional work, and the minister of agriculture is convening a meeting this week and we will be finalising the report.”

Other issues
On the issue of reducing medicine costs, Tshabalala-Msimang said she will meet the pharmaceutical pricing committee later this month to discuss the matter.

Regarding regulation of the health sector, Mseleku said people’s health cannot be used as a commodity. “There is no price-fixing in health ,” he said.

On HIV and Aids, Tshabalala-Msimang said the number of adults who voluntarily test for the virus has grown from 25% to 35%, and a decrease in the number of people contracting tuberculosis (TB) has been recorded.

She said the diagnosis of multidrug-resistant TB will be speeded up as test results will now be processed within a week as opposed to three or four months previously.

The minister announced that two new vaccines, against diarrhoea and pneumonia respectively, will be given to babies to reduce infant mortality.

“We are going to provide these two vaccines that are being finalised. We are in discussion with pharmaceutical companies that produce these vaccines and in fact I think on the continent, when we do produce those vaccines we’ll be the first country to do so,” said Tshabalala-Msimang.—Sapa

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