Health Tips in South Africa




Healthcare facilities in South Africa are a blend of the very basic (in rural areas) and cutting edge technologies (in private facilities and medical research). The state contributes 40 per cent of all health care expenditure and the public health system serves around 80 per cent of the population. 

Those who aren't covered by South African social security will need comprehensive private health insurance to obtain a residence permit. Additionally, ensure that your health policy will be accepted by the authorities. Not having health insurance could be risky as medical bills could be very high. 

When taking health insurance, make sure your family's present and future health requirements are covered. Insurance for essential health care and accidents (e.g. sports accidents) and injuries, whether they occur in your home, at your place of work or while travelling will be necessary. Carry proof of your health insurance with you at all times. Avoid companies that reserve the right to cancel a policy unilaterally when you reach a certain age or have a serious illness. It will prove difficult or impossible to find alternative cover. Also avoid one-year contracts, which a company can refuse to renew. The period for policies is usually five years. During this time the company cannot exclude you from cover, even if you have a serious illness costing the insurance company a lot of money.


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There is a network of public and private health facilities in South Africa, private facilities being as good as those in Europe and the US.

Public hospitals and clinics in the country are usually overcrowded and waiting times are long. They are well equipped and staffed but very often you have to pay for treatment.

Non-residents who are treated in state run hospitals in South Africa must pay as there are no reciprocal health agreements with other countries. Very often, even citizens and residents have to pay, the amount depending on their salary and number of dependants. Hospitals have rating scales to calculate the amount to be charged for treatment. State hospitals offer specialist treatment but waiting lists can be very long.

For those who can afford it, private hospitals and clinics are better choices. Additionally, costs are rather lower than in many western countries, particularly the US. Netcare ( ) and Medi-clinic ( ) are two of the largest health care providers in South Africa.


The country has faced a shortage of doctors on account of a medical brain drain to UK and Canada. This is why the government has now made it easier for foreign doctors to practice in South Africa. Some 450 foreign doctors, many from Cuba, have been recruited to work in the country. Besides this, newly-qualified South African doctors and chemists are now required to undertake a year of compulsory community service in understaffed hospitals and clinics.

To find a general practitioner in your area, contact the Health Professions Council of South Africa (Tel. 012-338 9300 or 6680, ), an organization with which all medical practitioners must be registered.

Emergency Numbers

Police: 112

Netcare: 911 (Private rapid response service)

In Case of an Emergency

In case of an emergency, do not expect emergency services to act quickly and efficiently. The state ambulance service is already reeling under pressure exerted by a very high accident rate in the country. Netcare is the largest private rapid response provider and has the biggest fleet of cars, ambulances, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft manned by paramedics.

Health Risks

HIV/AIDS, smoking-related diseases and tuberculosis are all major public health concerns in South Africa. These diseases mainly affect the non-white population of the country. Otherwise the country is relatively free of major health problems.

Immunizations aren't currently required or even recommended for those moving to major cities and coastal resort areas in South Africa. Some doctors, however, do recommend a check on polio and tetanus vaccinations. If you belong to an area where yellow fever is endemic such as Kenya, Tanzania and the northern half of South America you need to carry documentary proof of vaccination. If you are going to be located in what can be described as far flung areas in the country then vaccinations for typhoid and Hepatitis A will be necessary. Vaccinations against hepatitis B are required only for those who will be working in healthcare.