The provision of free health care in South Africa is a process that the government and all other stakeholders in the healthcare industry are yet to finalise. Steps have been made towards this, but there are a lot of things to be done still. Every South African citizen or resident deserves the best health care services, regardless of their race, tribe, gender, or religion.
Is there free health care in South Africa? In June 2017, the cabinet gave an official statement that the government was finalising plans to ensure free healthcare for all citizens. Over two years later, there has been no further communication on the matter. Nonetheless, citizens and residents are waiting for the implementation of free health care in South Africa.
South African healthcare system
What is the healthcare system in South Africa? SA healthcare services are provided by more than 400 public facilities and over 200 private hospitals. The private vs. public healthcare in South Africa shows the gap in the economic status between the poor and the wealthy. The public facilities that offer healthcare in South Africa serve approximately 80% of the population. The private sector serves the remaining 20% who are wealthy. About 40% of the medical services expenditure is provided by the state, but the amount is often inadequate.
South African health care facts
It is estimated that up to 79% of doctors work in the private sector where free healthcare is impossible. One of the top South African health care issues is understaffing in public hospitals. Others are poor management and inadequate infrastructure. Many public clinics and hospitals are accessible to most citizens and residents, even in rural areas. However, the conditions in these facilities cannot allow the staff to offer free high-quality medical care at all times.
What does the law state?
Does South Africa have universal health care? Yes, it does. However, the challenges of understaffing and underfunding in the public sector make it hard for most people to access equitable, high-quality, and affordable medical aid in the country. According to the law, everyone is entitled to certain free health care services.
According to the National Health Act, section 4(3), certain healthcare services should be provided free for people who do not have medical aid. Everyone has a right to access these free healthcare services at government clinics and hospitals. All women in the country also have a right to get a free abortion at these institutions. The law allows the termination of a pregnancy for any reason up to 12 weeks. Pregnancies of between 13 and 20 weeks can only be terminated if they endanger the woman’s physical, mental or socioeconomic health. The South African healthcare system allows all nursing mothers and children under six years to access free healthcare services in any public hospital.
National Health Insurance (NHI)
The NHI is one of the steps that the country has taken to ensure that there are quality and affordable health care services in South Africa. It is a financing system where citizens pool funds to ensure that even the poor get access to the best medical services as is required in the universal healthcare system.
Once NHI is implemented, every South African will access free medical services in any of the NHI accredited facilities. NHI is still in the process of implementation since 2012. The funds for the scheme will be drawn from mandatory pre-payments and will be based on general taxes.
To revitalise the healthcare system in the country, the relevant officials started an infrastructure plan to identify the areas that needed capital investments to meet the needs of the population. The plan was finalised in mid-2018. Currently, the relevant officials are working to ensure that all the 872 primary healthcare services in the NHI plan are renovated, constructed, or maintained. These facilities are the point of focus because 71.2% of the population uses primary healthcare institutions as the first place of access when in need of medical attention.
Attaining free health care in South Africa is the goal of the government. However, implementing this goal is challenging because the public medical facilities are understaffed and underfunded. According to the law, every South African is entitled to certain healthcare services for free. Although steps have been taken towards ensuring that free services are implemented freely, much more is still desired in the country.