• News

New Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform South Africa’s food policies

06 August 2021

The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) welcomes the appointments of Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla and Deputy Health Minister Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo. HEALA urges the ministers to prioritise reforms for equitable access to healthy food.

These appointments come when South Africa is experiencing unprecedented levels of hunger amid a COVID-19 epidemic. About 10-million people and 3-million children live in households affected by hunger, according to the most recent National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).

Many families experience “perpetual” hunger, with 1.8 million households and 400,000 children experiencing food shortages for more than a year.

Women, who were significantly more likely to shield children from hunger, may be worst hit by food insecurity.

South Africans strongly support better food policies

South Africa also has a growing burden of obesity and related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, stroke and heart diseases that are driven —  in part —  by unequal access to healthy food. Many of these NCDs are now among the leading causes of death in South Africa and have been shown to be strong risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease.

“The lack of access to affordable and nutritious food in South Africa is a health crisis,” warns the head of HEALA, Nzama Mbalati.

“Over the last 16 months, we have seen how poverty and inequality impact health outcomes,” Mbalati says. “Today, our new ministers have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prioritise reforms to ensure equitable access to food and nutrition, such a 20% health promotion levy and better food warning labels.”

South Africans strongly support government action to reduce diet-related NCDs through policies such as taxes on sugary drinks and front-of-package warning labels for products high in fats, salt and sugar, found a 2020 study published in the scientific journal Nutrients.

Introduced in 2018, South Africa’s health promotion levy added a tax of 11% on sugary drinks with more than 4 grams of sugar per 100 ml. The levy is aimed at curbing sugar consumption that is fueling a rise in NCDs. The tax generated R5.4 billion for the nation in its first two years.

Still, three years into the levy’s implementation there is no clear understanding of how the levy revenue is allocated to “promote health,” as its title might imply.

The country’s 11% health promotion levy remains also remains far short of the World Health Organisation-recommended benchmark 20%, which would be more effective and raise much-needed revenue for important national priorities such as the National Health Insurance and a Basic Income Grant.

HEALA calls on Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla and Deputy Health Minister Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo to intensify efforts that accelerate access to equitable health and food for all.

“Disease in South Africa is fueled by poverty and inequality,” Mbalati says. “Without a concerted intervention to address food and nutrition insecurity, we exact a high cost to our future potential.”

The Healthy Living Alliance is a civil society coalition working to advance food justice in South Africa to ensure that communities can exercise their right to affordable, nutritious food.

For interviews, contact:

Nzama Mbalati, head of the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA)

082 734 5414