Medicine in South Africa

Hi all, I'm new to the site and hope you can help me out:

I've been offered the opportunity to volunteer on a meerkat study in the kalahari desert for a year. The university I'm going with are helping me take care of the usual paperwork but the one thing they don't have experience of is how to get medication while out there. I suffer from a chronic illness that means I have to take prescription medication twice a day to keep me up and on my feet, but, as far as I can tell, I will not be covered by the NHS while I'm away.

The closest town to where we'll be staying is Upington in the Northern Cape province in South Africa and someone will be making fortnightly trips there for supplies. My question is how I would get the medicine I need? Would it be possible to get something prescribed from a doctor in Upington even though I am not a citizen? How much do prescription (or, failing that, over-the-counter drugs) cost on average, and is there some kind of payment scheme offered by any companies that I can get involved with?

I hope there is a solution because I wouldn't want my disability to stop me from taking advantage of such a unique opportunity!

Thanks in advance.

Welcome to JayGee!

Hope that other members will soon share their experience with you.;)


Hi JayGee. In South Africa we don't have medicine, although the local medicine man can grind up some lion bones for you to make you mighty strong.

Seriously though, asking about cost of medicine when you don't specify what medicine you're looking at makes things a bit tricky. Headache tablets? Shredded plutonium? My suggestions are to google pharmacies in Upington.

If you're used to a fixed cost of medicine through the NHS, it's not like that in South Africa. Here medicine ranges from a few rand for the common cough remedy to hundreds for expensive antibiotics. You'll need a prescription for anything special, and any GP will be able to give you that (doctors' consultations are privately paid - around R340). It's not like in the UK where you belong to a specific doctor depending where you live: in SA you just make an appointment and pay after the consultation.

I've done the legwork and found two sites for you:
Upington Pharmacy: … code=85163
Upington Clicks: … x?brid=507
The first is a proper pharmacy, the second is a small store with a bolt-on pharmacy. Unfortunately there's  no e-mail address listed for either, but I suggest you phone them (remember to substitute the zero at the start with +27). You may have a language issue though: I think Upington is pretty Afrikaans.

They should be able to tell you whether the medicine you need is easily available (if it's rare I'd suggest buying at least two months' stockpile), whether a standard General Practioner will be able to prescribe it for you, and how much it costs. For a list of doctors, try this: … bcode=6506

Fair warning: you're going into the Kalahari desert. Upington is not a great urban hub, so they may not be able to help. You could always try things the other way around: phone a doctor and ask for advice (or ask for an e-mail address to correspond a bit more cheaply).

You'd asked about payment schemes - we have medical aids here which do help people with chronic medication, but medical aids are not designed to help foreigners just visiting the country for a year. It's all about emergency hospital care, and plans that cover chronic medication are very expensive.

Good luck!

@reillusioned: Thank you so much, all of that has been a massive help! Just understanding the basics is enough to help me start planning how I'm going to deal with this. And thank you for the links to pharmacies etc. All of my searches just led me to websites offering cheap Viagra, but after I'd saved all of those to my favourites I didn't know where to turn :P

When you google, remember to go to - it will prioritise websites from South Africa for you in your search results.