Access to health care facilities during COVID-19: probing experiences of Ntabeni a rural community in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.
Ndlovu, Hloniphile Talent.
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Anthropologists have critically taken an interest in studying the political economy of health and healthcare of people especially in forgotten communities. This incorporates admittance to medical care offices and reception of medical care. While they concur that the South African public medical care framework has gone through key changes, they also agree that the implementation or the realization of such important policies have become fragmented, and exacerbated inequalities in relation to access to health care and related facilities. This happens at the heart of solid constitutional and legislative policy frameworks which are in place to guarantee the right to access to healthcare. These constitutional and legislative provisions of guaranteed health care access remain a panacea and, as a result, most poor people are still unable to enjoy this international human right to health care and health facilities. The unprecedented arrival of COVID-19 brought South African health inequalities to light as most people could not access medical health care and health facilities at the time of their need. This qualitative study titled “Access to health care facilities during COVID-19: Probing the experiences of Ntabeni, a rural community in Pietermaritzburg, KZN”, draws on critical contributions of anthropology as a field of study and uses two theoretical frameworks, namely, social constructivism and access theory, as guidelines for the study. Data was collected from thirty (30) purposely sampled participants from the Ntabeni community. The recruitment included both males and females that were deemed fit to participate in the study as guided by ethical considerations of the study. Research findings revealed that the community of Ntabeni could not access health care during the COVID-19 lockdown levels 5 and 4 restrictions in South Africa, and this took a toll on their health. COVID-19 and lockdown regulations/restrictions exacerbated inequalities because poor community members of Ntabeni encountered barriers of affordability, accommodation, awareness, availability and accessibility of health care and facilities. Community members of Ntabeni felt excluded as human beings and as voters who were promised access to free medical health care. The study recommends that: the department of health should prioritize health and access to health care and facilities for the Ntabeni Community which is caged by poverty, unemployment and many health issues. These issues threaten the survival right of all human beings. Government should remove user fees at public hospitals to maximize access to health care and facilities for indigent people. The provision of a wellness or mobile clinic should be expedited as they will also accommodate those who cannot cater for their medical needs. This will make health services more accessible and affordable. Future anthropological research is needed to understand the factors that inhibit communities from accessing universities and contributing to the high rate of unemployment. Other studies could potentially look at the impact of the Msunduzi Integrated Development Planning, which is supposed to positively impact the lives of the members of Ntabeni community in terms of their socio-economic needs.