Healthcare in South Africa

Healthcare in South Africa

Comments2 comments

If you're living in South Africa, here's a guide to healthcare in South Africa, health insurance, and common health hazards.

There is a two-tier health care system in South Africa with a large public sector and a small but very high quality private sector. Expat health insurance provider Bupa Global describes the significant differences between the country's two health sectors.   

Almost 80 percent of the population opts for public health care, while most expats choose to take out health insurance coverage for private care. Such private schemes offer everything from full medical coverage to basic hospital and emergency plans.  

Unsurprisingly, no other African nation comes close to offering the quality of medical care that the private South African sector can provide. There are 200 private hospitals in South Africa, which is roughly the UK total. The private sector has been said to exceed the standard of care in some European centres. Indeed, the system caters to European medical tourists as well, particularly in the areas of plastic surgery and cosmetic dentistry.

With better pay, significantly better working conditions, and the latest high-tech equipment, the system attracts many excellent doctors and nurses. Unfortunately, this leaves a vacuum in the state care facilities and private treatment is unavailable to the majority of the population who cannot afford it. Only 40 percent of South Africa’s spending on healthcare goes to the public sector and the government has encouraged more people to take out private medical cover in order to ease the burden on the public system.

The public system charges patients based on their income and number of dependents. A consultation with a general practitioner will cost around ZAR 55 (EUR 5). There are very long waiting lists for public sector patients to see specialists.  

The UK government has strongly suggested that expats in South Africa take out comprehensive medical insurance including medical evacuation cover. Indeed, if you expect care to the standard of Western countries, you will need insurance unless you plan to pay as you go, which can be a risky option.

Health hazards in South Africa include the following:

  • HIV/Aids – The WHO estimates that 5.4 million people over fifteen years of age, or eighteen percent of the adult population carry to the HIV virus.  As elsewhere, it is important for expats to use effective protection when engaging in sexual intercourse.
  • Food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and cholera.  
  • Water contact disease: schistosomiasis (2009)
  • Other diseases: TB, rabies, malaria
  • Malaria: The areas where malaria is most commonly contracted are in the Northern Province, Eastern Transvaal (including the Kruger National Park) and northeastern KwaZulu/Natal as far south as the Tugela River.  Anti-malaria tablets are commonly available (the most popular with travellers is mefloquine).  Simple measures you can take to avoid mosquito bites include using insect repellant and wearing long, loose clothing, particularly after dark.
  • Cholera: Poorer communities in rural South Africa experience occasional cholera outbreaks. Be sure to drink or use water that has been boiled and avoid ice in any drinks served in these regions. It is recommended that you visit a doctor immediately if you experience diarrhoea.


Life expectancy at birth in South Africa is 49 years, according to a 2011 estimate, putting South Africa 217th in the world. The infant mortality rate is 43 deaths per 1,000 live births, 57th in the world.

Learn more about the healthcare system in other countries

Expatica / Updated by Bupa Global

Expatica ask the expert 
Need advice? Post your question on Expatica's free Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.

Bupa Global offers international health insurance to expats in more than 190 countries worldwide.


Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.

If you believe any of the information on this page is incorrect or out-of-date, please let us know. Expatica makes every effort to ensure its articles are as comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date as possible, but we're also grateful for any help! (If you want to contact Expatica for any other reason, please follow the instructions on this website's contact page.)

Captcha Note: Characters are case sensitive
The details you provide on this page will not be used to send any unsolicited e-mail, and will not be sold to a third party. Privacy policy .

2 Comments To This Article

  • colleen posted:

    on 24th November 2013, 08:26:23 - Reply

    I work with a group called Doctors Across Borders a NPO that work in the far out rural areas of this country... we work with the sick dying and forgotten....
    It easy for the majority to point fingers and accuse... BUT ...poverty is rife in this country and with poverty comes crime drugs and every wrong thing one can imagine.... when one is starving you don't care what you eat....
    you care only that you do...
  • Robin posted:

    on 24th November 2013, 05:52:13 - Reply

    So much talk about health care going down the tubes
    We humans don't manage ourselves well enough
    We live and do just anything... couldn't care a stuff about our bodies and our mind......we treat our bodies like .....and we store a lot of .... in our minds that's suppose to direct us....then ...get sick.....and wonder why
    Next we complain....the health care is not good
    I am ...... of all affects everyone on the planet negatively
    If people belong to a med aid they go out of their way to waste the resources
    Few take responsibility...most live a wasteful life ...waste their own goods or someone else's.....there's more where it comes from they say
    First law of the universe is order.... next....the universe does not waste a single atom
    Every atom is accounted for...your knowledge of physics...nothing is ever destroyed...
    So when we are short.... we have only ourselves to blame
    My son a doctor is struggling with an obese patient
    The guys skin has started to mould into the leather chair
    Little can help.......only a change in lifestyle /thinking/action by the patient
    One can go so far as to say not a 100 doctors could help him...unless he helps himself
    ...could we go further and say not even God could ?
    If the patient refuses to help himself.....then yes!
    Could we leave obesity out and replace it with another malady/sickness
    ...yes in most cases ......sadly..... we can....
    We ..............ourselves up