When relocating to South Africa, healthcare will with no doubt be one of your main concerns. The South African healthcare system has become more accessible since the end of apartheid in 1994. Medical faculties of major, internationally rated universities offer sought-after and rigorous medical training. Additionally, many new medical centers have been set up across the country and you are likely to find more hospitals in large, urban centres and tourist areas.
However, some social ills still prevail in the country. Public hospitals face a lack of funding and resources, while private hospitals and clinics are only accessible for those who can afford it. There are a few groups of private hospitals, privately funded and therefore expensive for locals. Health insurance is strongly recommended for expats.
Healthcare services available in South Africa
Most South African hospitals provide quality health care services. Private hospitals, for their part, are famous in the field of medical tourism. In all cases, rates are quite affordable with regard to the quality of health care services provided.
Note that foreign nationals have to subscribe to a health insurance (also called medical aid locally) to be entitled to either public or private health care services.
Public health system
Public hospitals in South Africa are improving continuously. To date, the country hosts no fewer than 162 sanitary districts. A new administrative structure is currently being studied so as to ease the access to health care service in rural regions.
There are also around 3,500 clinics which provide health care services free of charge to pregnant women and children under the age of 6. However, fees charged in public hospitals vary according to the patient's income and his or her dependents. With a high unemployment rate, this places a burden on the system.
So, free or affordable health care often means having to stand in long queues in uncomfortable surroundings. Still, the academic (teaching) hospitals in major South African cities offer high quality care by student doctors and their professors. These are Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals in the Western Cape, Steve Biko, George Mukhari, Charlotte Maxeke and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals in Gauteng, King Edward VIII Hospital and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, Universitas Hospital in the Free State and Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in the Eastern Cape.
Private healthcare system
On the other hand, health services provided by private hospitals and clinics are much more expensive, though they are much more convenient. However, rates are lower than in other developed countries such as the USA. Private hospitals and clinics are run by doctors and large companies, like Life Healthcare, Netcare or Mediclinic, and, overall, South Africa hosts around 200 private hospitals and clinics.
Standards are generally high, and because there is some competition, service is professional and efficient. South Africans usually go to a general practitioner as first port-of-call. There are GPs with private practices in abundance to consult for minor ailments. A GP will refer you to a specialist or hospital when necessary. Most GPs will ask you to settle your bill in cash after which you can claim the money back from your medical aid/insurance.
Healthcare for expats
Whether you have moved temporarily or permanently to South Africa, you should have no trouble accessing to healthcare. Nevertheless, you will have to produce either your health insurance card or its reference number. With some exceptions, all relating fees are refunded by your health insurance.
As mentioned above, fees applied by public hospitals and clinics will vary according to your income. For private care, you need to pay. On the whole, you’ll probably find that doctor and hospital fees are generally much lower in South Africa than in many more economically developed countries. You can use your own health insurer or you can shop around and choose from a variety of South African insurers.
Good to know:
Both public and private hospitals have 24-hour emergency (ER) services. If you can get to a private hospital’s ER, you will be asked to pay cash for your medical bill (or by credit card), which you can claim back from your medical insurance.