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The City has merged its departments of health and social development, which is headed by an energetic Dr Refik Bismilla.
WITH health and social development now merged into one department, the City will be able to deliver seamless services to its residents, especially the most impoverished, says the newly appointed executive director of the department, Refik Bismilla.

Refik Bismilla newly appointed executive director of Joburg's department of health and social development.Refik Bismilla newly appointed executive director of Joburg's department of health and social development.After almost four weeks in the position, he already feels that as one department it will be easier to have an integrated approach to do the work. Bearing in mind that there will always be limited resources for the unlimited needs of all the people, “we are the custodians of people’s money and we must use it wisely in their service”.

According to Bismilla, this new department has a budget of approximately R670-million for operational purposes and R28.5-million for capital projects, which will be used to ensure that needs are addressed for health and social development programmes.

For example, he says, health and social development do not have to be treated separately; the continuing and holistic nature of a particular individual can now be the focus.

Two years ago, Executive Mayor Parks Tau (who was MMC for finance at the time) and other City officials went on a road show to Orange Farm. Bismilla says that one of the residents raised a concern about sick people in a particular shack. In the three metre by three metre shack, a family of six were sleeping on the floor, emaciated, malnourished and clearly sick.

The mayor still reflects on that story, he says, and hasn’t forgotten about seeing first hand that kind of abject poverty. It highlighted that if work was being done in silos, families like the one in Orange Farm would not get the services they needed. However, with the merger of the departments of health and social development, situations like this will be taken care of with regard to every aspect, such as food parcels and medication.

A nurse and a social worker can now be deployed together into areas so that a burden of impoverishment can be lessened, he says.

With the new department, however, comes challenges, in the sense of how one creates the greatest efficiency, he says. “The question now is how does the department do more for the people, with the resources it has.”

He emphasises that the government on its own cannot do everything and that partnerships with the academic sector, business sector and non-profit organisations are very important. Tapping into latent energy in communities is equally important. “We must avoid the situation that as the government we must just deliver, because there are many organisations that are doing great work without government support.

“I believe that we must be able to support and develop those organisations so that more work can be done, which is tapping into the latent energy in communities,” he says.

Bismilla studied at Dublin University in Ireland, where he specialised in surgery, obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics. After completing his studies abroad, he returned to South Africa to do his internship at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. He then worked for many years as a doctor in Soweto clinics.

He is no stranger to working for the City, having joined its health department in 2001. Before that, he was the provincial chief director of district health services for seven years.

Following the adoption of Joburg 2040, the long-term Growth and Development Strategy, Bismilla feels that the enlarged department should change course to achieve the objectives set out in the strategy, and that his department needs to more innovative in what it does and how it does it.

His new job entails looking at the political imperatives and how best to achieve them, working with management teams from health and social development to attain the objectives of Joburg 2040, and interacting with the staff of both sections to ensure that the needs of the people are met.

Ensuring the provision of basic primary health care services is another aspect of his job, along with strategic development – developing strategies for the department to achieve its objectives, as well as practical implementation, poverty alleviation, assisting migrants, preventing xenophobic attacks, homelessness, and early childhood development, to name a few.

Apart from being the executive director of health and social development, he is also the convenor of the human and social development cluster, which is split into three smaller sub-clusters – health and social development, community development, and safety.

At present, he is focusing on the institutional re-design – which means fusing health and social development into one department, developing programmes in a manner that speaks through the budget, and consolidating and developing the cluster concept, which allows departments to draw on each other for help in solving issues that may be interlinked.

He has already spoken to the Joburg Zoo regarding visits by homeless and orphaned children, as well as to the transport department for commuting and to the business sector to provide lunch packs. A child who has never been to the zoo or the theatre will remember that for the rest of their lives.

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