Healthcare in South Africa

Healthcare in South Africa

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Learn more about how to access public or private healthcare in South Africa, including where to find information on national health insurance during your stay in the country.

South Africa boasts the highest standard of healthcare in Africa. There are over 200 private hospitals across the country, and expats who take out private health insurance can expect the standard of care to be on a par with their home country. 

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.

With significant funding and the best specialists going to the private sector, there is a major gap between public and private hospitals in much of the country. This means that while reduced price healthcare is on offer to the lowest earners in the public sector, it’s still highly advisable for expats to take out a private plan.

Public and private healthcare in South Africa

Around 80% of South Africans use public healthcare, but most expats take out private health insurance schemes, which range from basic emergency service cover to full medical plans. The South African government offers co-payments towards healthcare up to a maximum of 40% of the total cost, with the amount you’re entitled to depending on your income.

The skills and funding gap in the South African healthcare system places a burden on the public system, with understaffing and long waiting times a consistent problem. This has resulted in the government encouraging those who can afford it to sign up for private medical insurance.

National Health Insurance in South Africa

In an attempt to narrow the gap between the two sectors, the South African government is trying to phase in a new National Health Insurance system across South Africa, which will promises greater funding for various forms of healthcare.

It’s expected that the first steps in implementing the new system will take place in 2017, with the government hoping that over the next decade it can make better healthcare more readily available to those who can’t afford it.

Healthcare providers in South Africa

You can either sign up for a private healthcare plan from an international provider in your home country or from a local provider in South Africa. Some insurers have their own network of private hospitals, while others instead specify their preferred facilities.

When choosing a healthcare provider in South Africa, you’ll need to think about your personal requirements and ensure you read reviews of the various suppliers - as some come more highly recommended than others. For more information on choosing a provider, check out our full guide on health insurance in South Africa.

Private healthcare in South Africa

How much does healthcare in South Africa cost?

Public healthcare in South Africa is charged based on your income and number of children. Visits to the doctor can cost as little as R 55, but waiting lists can be long, especially when it comes to seeing a specialist.

Healthcare in South Africa has to be paid for up-front, so you’ll need to make sure your insurance covers the fees you’ll be charged and recoup them from your insurer (if applicable) after your visit to the hospital. You can usually pay with cash or credit/debit card, but most places won’t take cheques.

Fees in major cities such as Cape Town are lower that some western countries, which has resulted in an increase in so-called health tourism. To learn more about the processes involved when going to the hospital in South Africa, check out our guide.

Sick pay in South Africa

Over a three-year period, workers in South Africa are entitled to sick pay for the number of days they’d usually work in six weeks.

If you’re in your first six months of employment, however, you’ll only be entitled to one day of paid sick leave for every 26 days you have worked.

Your employer can request a medical certificate to prove you are ill if you’re absent for more than two consecutive days, or more than twice in an eight week period.

Public healthcare in South Aftrica

South Africa dental care

Under the public healthcare system, co-payments on offer for the lowest earning people also apply to dental care, though these are limited to basic visits and don’t include more complicated procedures. Some private health insurance plans also don’t include dental care as standard.

Two associations, the Dental Therapy Association of South Africa and the South African Dental Association, ensure dental services remain on par with other countries and oversee dental treatment.

Visiting the doctor in South Africa

Major cities in South Africa boast many private healthcare facilities, from day clinics to large medical centres which are affiliated with the private hospitals. As a fee-paying customer, you should be able to see your doctor or a specialist quickly rather than waiting a number of weeks.

For advice on choosing a doctor, check out our full guide on doctors in South Africa.

Having a baby in South Africa

In private clinics, maternity care in South Africa is very good, and you’ll usually deal with the same specialist right the way through the process.

Having a baby in South Africa isn’t significantly different to elsewhere in the world, but there are a few variations. For example, South Africa has a very high rate of caesarean sections, with around 70% of babies delivered in this manner.

National health insurance in South Africa

What to do in an emergency in South Africa

If you need to contact the emergency services, you can call 112 from any mobile phone. Some private healthcare providers also have their own emergency phone numbers.

Visiting the pharmacy in South Africa

Pharmacies in South Africa are accessible in most places and medicines are generally relatively affordable, as prices are fixed by the government.

Pharmacies are run by large chains including Dis-Chem, Clicks and MediRite. Pharmacies can be in shorter supply in rural areas, but mail-order and delivery services are generally available.

Do students need medical insurance in South Africa?

If you’re going to study in South Africa, you’ll need to provide proof that you have medical insurance when you apply for your study visa. Universities in South Africa will usually accept insurance with any private provider, as long as it covers the whole duration you anticipate being in the country.

Learn more about the healthcare system in other countries




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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