Health care in South Africa
Immigration can be a traumatic process. The last thing that you need when you arrive in another country is to be ill or injured. It is easy to take good health for granted, but sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find that we are sick or in need of medical attention. So, it makes sense to spend some time (and money) planning for you and your family’s health care in South Africa. If you intend to visit South Africa to receive medical treatment, you should click here for more information.
If you are planning a temporary stay in South Africa, it is advisable to take out the usual travel insurance for the duration of your stay. If you are immigrating to South Africa, you should investigate the various medical aid (medical/health insurance) schemes that operate in the country (they are called medical aid schemes in South Africa). Such schemes require the payment of a monthly premium in return for varying levels of cover, so make sure that you find a scheme that suits your needs.
Going to the doctor
South Africa’s medical profession is world-class, with South African doctors in employment all over the world. Besides numerous general practitioners, there is also a host of specialists in practice in the country. In the larger urban centres it is very easy to find a doctor, simply by looking in the telephone directory. When visiting a doctor, it is customary to make an appointment beforehand, instead of simply arriving. Many doctors also expect payment immediately, unless your medical insurance plan covers visits to the doctor.
Going to hospital
South African hospitals are equipped to treat virtually any condition and are situated all over the country. South Africa has two types of hospital – private hospitals, and public hospitals. For a long time now it has been reported that state hospitals are of a lower standard than private ones. However, many people in South Africa do not have medical insurance and make use of state hospitals. Generally speaking, care in state hospitals is free, although due to higher patient numbers you may have to wait longer to be treated in a state hospital.
If you wish to make use of a private hospital, you need to be able to afford the costs involved, as private facilities do not treat anyone for free. If you have medical insurance, it is very important that you notify your insurer about any intended hospital visit, as the insurer needs to formally authorise the visit. If you do not have this authorisation, the insurer may decline to pay for your visit.
South African hospitals are equipped to handle emergencies and there is a proper ambulance service.
For cheaper, more minor treatment that does not involve full-on admission, a hospital may request immediate payment in cash or using a credit card.
Going to the pharmacy
Pharmacies in South Africa are staffed by well-trained pharmacists and assistants who are usually able to provide the correct medication for your condition, regardless of whether you have a doctor’s advice. There is a ranking system for medications in South Africa, known as the scheduling system. Schedule 0, 1 and 2 medications require no prescription, while medications ranking above that do. So, for example, if you require a Schedule 5 medication, you will need a doctor’s prescription. There are also some doctors who dispense their own medication, but this is not the norm.
Health insurance (medical aid)
There are several medical insurance schemes in South Africa. You need to do proper research when selecting the scheme that is right for you. There is a scheme that caters specifically for travellers. The BUPA scheme is designed to serve the needs of those who find themselves in need of treatment in a foreign country. However, your final selection should be based on the needs of you and your family.
Health and safety in South Africa
Like any other country, South Africa has certain health problems. By far the most prevalent diseases in South Africa are tuberculosis (particularly in the Western Cape, due to the rainy winter climate) and HIV/Aids. However, despite being on the African continent, South Africa is not really affected by diseases which are common in other parts of Africa, such as yellow fever. In general, if you are considering coming to South Africa, it is advisable to be immunised against polio and Hepatitis A and B, as a precautionary measure. Consult your physician on this issue if you are not sure.
HIV is spread through sexual contact and is a serious problem in South Africa. It is important to be aware of this risk when visiting or staying in the country. Be responsible at all times.
In some areas to the north of the country, there may be a slight possibility of contracting malaria. If you are visiting those areas, it is important to take the necessary precautions, such as using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved, full length clothing, and asking your physician about possible medications. Also, do not swim in stagnant bodies of water, as the bilharzia parasite may be present in the water. Although it is easily curable, infection by bilharzia can be a painful and debilitating experience.
All South African food and beverages are required to meet certain standards. There is therefore no danger in any South African consumable produce. Tap water in South Africa undergoes a municipal purification process, and is safe to drink, unless there is a specific warning that the tap is drawing its water from another source, such as a tank or borehole, but this is rare.
Generally, the health care in South Africa is quite good. If you have plans to relocate there, there is nothing much to worry about, as far as their health care system is concerned. Just make sure you are health insured, which is also something ImmigrationSouthAfrica.org can advise and help you with.