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Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Friday paid tribute to former president Nelson Mandela and the late Steve Biko at a South African Medical Association award ceremony.
Tshabalala-Msimang said Mandela highlighted the importance of access to basic services such as water, food, housing and sanitation in determining the health status of a population.
Quoting Mandela, she said: "Access to clean water, adequate food, housing, employment and sanitation plays a decisive role in determining the health status of a population ... While effective changes in health-service provision will improve access to healthcare, long-term improvements in the health of our people hinge on tangible improvements in living conditions.
"This statement by [former] president Mandela expresses the firm view of the African National Congress in acknowledging the role of poverty and underdevelopment, which millions of our people were subjected to, in undermining the health of our population."
The health minister said that Steve Biko wrote and spoke at length about the conditions of abject poverty people faced.
"We have to continue to pay tribute to the significant role that Steve Biko played in our struggle for freedom by ensuring that all our people gain access to basic services that are essential for them to live a decent life."
She said this would be accomplished through continuing efforts to improve access to quality healthcare, education, safe water and food security.
Tshabalala-Msimang congratulated the award winners at the ceremony for their "selfless effort" in providing healthcare to the people in line with government's vision of "a better life for all".
"As the medical profession honours you today [Friday], we are all, in a way, honouring ourselves as nation for the countless efforts that we individually and collectively are making in order to secure the good future, health and welfare of our people," she said. -- Sapa