What if I get sick in South Africa?
The possibility of becoming ill and requiring medical attention is one of the most common concerns in preparing for a move abroad. The quality of private health care in South Africa is probably comparable to that in your home country so there is no need for undue anxiety.
- Medical facilities in major South African cities are the best on the continent.
- Equipment is up-to-date and medical supplies and drugs are readily available. Hospitals are public or private, but the standard of private health care is much higher than that in state hospitals.
- There are maternity clinics, trauma centres, excellent laboratories and other specialised services and specialists of every medical discipline.
- It is essential that you have health care insurance that will provide coverage in South Africa as private medical care is relatively expensive and you will be required to make payment up-front if not properly covered by a local medical insurer.
- Should a medical emergency arise, you will not be left on your own. Your employer or Embassy will be able to provide you with pro-active assistance.
Private sector health services in South Africa are of a high standard. Subsidised state medical care is widely available and government trauma units are an alternative.
Emergency medical services are also widely available countywide. Airborne medical rescue and extraction teams also service large cities like Johannesburg and medical facilities in major South African cities are the best on the continent. Equipment is up-to-date and medical supplies and drugs are readily available. Johannesburg has many private and government hospitals but the standard of private health care is generally much higher than that in state hospitals. The city is well supplied with maternity clinics, trauma centres, excellent laboratories and other specialised services and specialists of every medical discipline.
It is essential that you are covered by health care insurance that will provide coverage in South Africa or a local Medical Aid, as private medical care is relatively expensive and you will be required to make payment up-front if not covered by a local medical insurance organisation.
It is important that you have your medical aid card on you at all times and a medical aid disc displayed on your car. In the event of an accident or emergency, paramedics will ensure that if you have medical insurance any injured member of your family will be taken to a private hospital or clinic.
The possibility of requiring urgent medical attention is obviously a common concern. We have provided a list of private Hospitals / Medi-Clinics below – it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the location of one close to your home should a medical emergency arise.
Your GP will recommend an appropriate hospital and or specialist if necessary. You can take comfort from the fact that the cities are serviced by excellent ambulance, trauma and high care facilities.
Doctors, Specialists and Dentists
Most South African families have a GP (General Practitioner) who will attend to routine medical problems. There are no specific requirements for registering and you may choose any GP you wish – just a simple matter of making an appointment and providing the doctor with copies of your medical records if you have them. Should any member of your family become ill, your GP will usually be your first point of contact and should it be necessary, he/she will refer you to an appropriate specialist.
Specialists can be easily found in all major cities.
The standard of dentistry and dental surgery is high. It is difficult to get an appointment at short notice with a good dentist unless you are a registered patient. It is good idea to make an appointment for a regular check-up soon after you arrive, so that in the event of needing urgent care for acute toothache you are at least already a registered patient. Most of the larger dental practices have Oral Hygienists practicing from their rooms, and dentists will typically refer you to an appropriate specialist or surgeon if necessary.
Pharmacies (drug stores / chemists)
All pharmacies have resident qualified Pharmacists who are an excellent source of general health care information. They will also know or be able to source the local brand names of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Some will deliver prescription medication to your home. Depending on your medical aid plan, charges for prescription medication are either COD, and claimed back from your medical aid administrator or are debited directly to the medical aid scheme.
The following pharmacies are located in most shopping centres throughout South Africa:
- Pick ‘n Pay Pharmacies
- Spar Pharmacies
- Clicks Dispensary
Disease and other health concerns in South Africa:
- Drinking water: It is perfectly safe to drink tap water in urban centres in South Africa. Our water has been rated 3rdsafest in the world, however, if you prefer, many local and international brands of mineral and bottled water are available, as are water purification and domestic filtration systems.
- Lightning: Less of a concern in the Cape, however Johannesburg and Pretoria in particular are subject to spectacular and ferocious thunderstorms in the summer months.
- The sun and altitude: The sun is strong in South Africa and has a high ultraviolet rating, especially at Johannesburg and Pretoria’s high altitude. The altitude may make you feel unusually tired until you become acclimatized.
Diseases Commonly Found in Africa
Malaria is a common disease throughout Africa and although Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria are not in the malaria belt, Kruger National Park and areas in the North and East of the country are. Malaria is a preventable disease. It is caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. The mosquitoes feed from dusk to dawn – so that’s the time you need to be most cautious. Before you travel into a malaria region, consult a travel clinic – see below. Protect yourself from mosquito bites as much as possible, as this is the best form of prevention. There are prophylactics available, and it is essential that you take them as instructed.
Tick bite fever
Tick bite fever is a non-lethal but unpleasant disease occasionally contracted when hiking or walking through long grass in the bush. Tiny ticks transmit the disease from animals to humans. Wear protective clothing (long trousers and socks), and search and remove ticks from the body. It is also a good idea to apply DEET containing repellents and avoid walking barefoot. Treatment is not particularly successful, and it is best to let the disease take its course if you are unlucky enough to contract it.
Have all required vaccinations.
Be conscious of the health risks that you are exposed to in the areas in which you are travelling and it is advisable that you take the most advanced preventative measures and precautions.
If you have flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, aches and pains) a week or so after visiting a malaria area contact your GP immediately for a check-up.
Prior to travelling into malaria areas in South Africa or countries north of our borders, it is highly recommended that you contact a travel clinic, which offers:
- Free specialised medical travel advice
- All travel vaccinations
- Preventative medication (Malaria, Anti-Diarrhea)
- First aid travel kits
- Specialised post travel diagnosis treatment and care
- Emergency medical assistance on 082 911
- For more information visit: www.netcare.co.za
The majority of multinational corporations are contracted to global healthcare insurance companies like CIGNA and typically your company will provide you with extensive information on your medical cover and claims process. Be prepared to pay for services yourself as mostly you will be required to pay up-front at both hospitals and for doctor’s consultations and treatment (most will accept credit card payments) and claim back from your service provider, who typically also provides 24-hour help-line assistance and pre-authorisation for treatment and hospitalisation. In addition, claims can be submitted and processed on-line.
Important Note: Carry your medical insurance identity card with you at all times.