Healthcare in South Africa varies from the excellent to very poor, expats warned

by Ray Clancy on September 2, 2010

Interest in living and working in South Africa has increased on the back of the country’s successful hosting of the football World Cup but potential expats are being warned that the health care can be diverse.

Too many people assume wrongly that the healthcare system in South Africa is on par with the NHS in the UK or the healthcare in other European countries, according to MediCare International.

Some parts of the country have a high degree of provision and South Africa’s plastic and general surgery is of such a high standard that is has see a rise in so called health tourism. But the country is not without its problems with a rocketing AIDS epidemic and little or no healthcare provision in remote and rural areas.

The result is an enormous country with a diverse combination of state of the art healthcare facilities on one hand and only very basic healthcare servicing many poorer communities.

To try and assist those with less money, the government runs a scheme for local nationals which charges them an amount for public sector healthcare based on their income and the number of dependents they have. But the vast majority of immigrants and expats will not have access to public sector healthcare and so must ensure they have adequate healthcare cover.

Visitors and those residing in the country should also ensure their vaccinations are up to date, as well as taking precautions to avoid infections such as AIDS and Malaria.

According to the NHS, if you are travelling to South Africa you should have vaccinations against Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Cholera and TB. The Yellow Fever vaccination is only needed if you are travelling to a high-risk rural area, and Diphtheria and Hepatitis B are needed if you are working in unhygienic, high-risk sectors, such as health workers. Anti-Malaria tablets are needed in the summer months in Kruger National Park, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal.

The experts also point out that most tap water is safe, but if you are not 100% sure it is best to drink mineral water, which is widely available across South Africa.

When looking for health insurance it is always best to look for a provider that covers repatriation costs, ancillary services and surgery costs to cover the risk of having to be evacuated to a larger town or even abroad. Although such costs are cheaper in South Africa than in the US for example, it may be that finding a suitable healthcare centre involves far more complications and travel, given the real possibility of exposure to serious disease and poor sanitation.

‘Anyone who has visited South Africa will understand straight away why people would like to visit and or relocate there. Its fabulous climate and scenery needs to be enjoyed with the confidence of a healthcare policy that covers every eventuality,’ said David Pryor, senior executive director at MediCare International.

‘Although South Africa has some world-class health facilities, they are not easily accessible. That’s why it is key that your policy should enable you to be transported quickly and safely to the nearest healthcare centre, ensuring your medical attention is the best on offer,’ he added.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph August 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm

What a load a xxxx! I live in South Africa and do NOT have any vaccination against TB, Cholera, Hepatitis B. While it’s true that many public health facilities are not up to scratch, if you have medical insurance that covers you abroad you can use the private hospital facilities used by most middle class people here. The standard of these facilities exceeds what’s available from the NHS. Furthermore, there isn’t a rocketing AIDS epidemic, unless this was written about 10 years ago. Thanks to the largest anti-retroviral roll-out in the WORLD, aids infection rates have been in steady decline for the last few years.


Katarina October 19, 2013 at 6:43 am

Before you take what they are saying at face value :

Check the stats – in 2011 – there were estimated 5.01 million people with HIV, now 2013 – estimated at 5.26 million. We’re still talking about roughly 10 percent of the population. As for vaccinations – Joseph probably has the TB vaccination and doesn’t know – it’s called bcg and it’s given to infants – because they can very easily die if they don’t get it.

In my experience – the private facilities are just fine – with this caveat! South African doctors do like to diagnose on sight as opposed to running lab work. I’ve experienced this with about 11 different doctors in different facilities – so I’m taking that to assume there’s a trend here. Meaning that although they have MRIs, cat scans, xrays and all that good stuff – getting a doctor to deem it necessary to use – is harder than you think. Case in point – my husband had chest pains when laying down – he went to a doctor who said it was the cold he was recovering from and he shouldn’t worry too much about it. That would never have happened in the USA……

My advice for anyone wanting to move here – pick larger cities and choose a residence close to a medical facility you’d actually want to go to.


Chazah April 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm

We moved here from UK over 35yrs ago and we all had to have these vaccines done. Medical Aid insurance varies in prices depends on your needs and what u can afford. No free medical and no free medicines for diabetics like they have in the UK. We pay over R6,000 a month Medical Aid so that I am covered for all my diabetic meds and injections from the diabetic clinic. Also very little choice here in Gauteng for special foods for diabetics. And there is an AIDS epidemic… have lost some friends to this disease.


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