Health care in South Africa

Updated 2014-07-01 14:43

If you are moving to South Africa, you will probably have queries on its health care system. You should know, beforehand, that quality care is offered by the private sector.

Expats coming to live in South Africa may be surprised by the style of healthcare in the country. Unlike most countries around the world, South Africa does not operate a single, main, public healthcare system such as the NHS, but instead has two different systems running together: a public system which is generally over-stretched and low on funds, but which serves about 80% of the population, and a private sector, which is mainly run for profit, and is mostly used by the top 20% of families with high or middle incomes. The majority of South African healthcare professionals work in the private sector.

These differences are sometimes considered to mean that poorer families cannot afford the cost of care, and instead are forced to rely upon an underfunded healthcare system which cannot afford the care they need. Tourists need to be aware of this situation if they are traveling to the country. They should also be aware that even public health centers will charge small fees for treatment, and that many people have still not taken the public health insurance option which was introduced in 2012 (although it will not be fully implemented throughout South Africa until 2026).

In contrasts to the public health service, private hospitals and clinics in South Africa are considered to be the best in the Continent. They have higher standards of care and treatment than the rest of the African nations, and often compare favorably to healthcare centers in Europe. Johannesburg in particular is noted for its medical excellence, and there has been some health tourism to these centers from other countries in Africa, and also from beyond the African continent. The consequence of this higher level of health care can be seen in the increasing charges for healthcare, which is considered to be rising at about 25% every year.

Health insurance

Most expats are encouraged to take out health insurance, in order to cover themselves in case they require treatment. Insurance allows expats to visit private hospitals, which are better maintained and have a higher standard of care. The majority of expats may struggle to get subsidized costs, and so may expect to pay about R55 for a visit, and up to R500 for each day spent in hospital. The majority of the population are expected to pay, and foreign nationals are one group who are expected to pay the full amount without any rebate. The charge will vary, depending upon how many dependents the expat has, and how much they earn. In most cases, however, expats will have to have private health insurance in order to use private hospitals instead.

Health risks

Many areas of South Africa pose a risk to health. This is particularly relevant for those traveling to South Africa on extended trips, where the risk of disease could mean that trips need to be cut short, or even result in hospitalization. Expats traveling to these areas will have to take out private health insurance in order to be properly protected.

Useful links:

South Africa Healthcare
Public Healthcare

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