Is there free health care in South Africa? Facts, NHI system, law

Is there free health care in South Africa? Facts, NHI system, law

The provision of free health care in South Africa is an ongoing process the Government of South Africa and other stakeholders in the healthcare industry are yet to finalise. Strides have been made to achieve this through the national health scheme, but more is desired because many citizens and residents still struggle with health-related financial crunches.

free health care in South Africa
A picture of a hospital bed. Photo:, @Martha Dominguez de Gouveia (modified by author)
Source: UGC

Although many people desire access to free health care in South Africa, this is yet to be fully actualised. The country's government rolled out the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHI), and the free services are limited. People with NHI coverage can access free primary health care services at government facilities.

Is there free health care in South Africa?

South Africa offers limited free health care services. The importance of free health care in South Africa cannot be overstated. Many people, especially those from resource-poor settings, cannot afford basic and specialised medical services due to financial constraints.

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The Government of South Africa rolled out the NHI scheme. NHI is a health financing system designed to pool funds to ensure access to high-quality and affordable health services for all South Africans.

Unfortunately, not everyone is enrolled on the scheme. Only enrolled people can access free primary health care services. The Department of Health in South Africa needs to conduct more sensitisation about the importance of the NHI scheme.

South African health care facts

South Africa has the best hospitals and medical infrastructure in southern Africa. There are over 400 public hospitals in the country.

The government has subsidised primary health care costs in public hospitals and dispensaries. However, many hospitals are underfunded, understaffed, and mismanaged. Consequently, the quality of care is compromised. Public facilities serve approximately 80% of the population.

On the other hand, over 200 private hospitals serve the remaining 20% of the population. While most offer high-quality services, they are pretty expensive, making them a reserve for moneyed people.

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The private vs. public healthcare in South Africa shows the gap in the economic status between the poor and the wealthy.

It is estimated that up to 80% of doctors work in the private sector, where free healthcare is impossible. One of the pressing issues is understaffing in public hospitals. Others are poor management and inadequate infrastructure.

Many public clinics and hospitals are accessible to citizens and residents, even in rural areas. However, the conditions in these facilities do not favour the provision of quality services.

affordable medical aid
Two medics conducting a procedure on a patient. Photo:, @Olga Guryanova
Source: UGC

Free services according to the law

According to the National Health Act, section 4(3), specific people should receive free healthcare services if they do not have medical aid. These services are only accessible at government clinics and hospitals.

  • Pregnant and lactating women
  • Children below six years
  • All persons receiving compensation for compensable occupational diseases (except members of medical aid schemes and their dependents)
  • Women, subject to the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1996 (Act No. 92 of 1996).

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NB: All women in the country have a right to get a free abo*tion at public clinics and hospitals. 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 a woman’s physical, mental, or socioeconomic health.

Affordable medical aid: The National Health Insurance

Rolling out the NHI is one of the steps the country has taken to ensure high-quality and affordable medical care services are accessible in the country. The scheme was founded to ensure the poor access top-notch medical services as is required in the universal healthcare system.

NHI is still in the process of implementation since 2012. The phases were to be implemented over 14 years, meaning the project will be running until 2026.

Once fully implemented, NHI is projected to be the best medical aid in South Africa because it will serve the rich and poor. Through the scheme, every South African will access free medical services in any of the NHI-accredited facilities.

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Funds for the scheme will be drawn from mandatory pre-payments and will be based on general taxes. On 30th June 2017, the NHI policy document was gazetted after approval by the cabinet, meaning progress is being made.

Are South African public hospitals free?
Two medics in the radiology department working using computers. Photo:, @Accuray
Source: UGC

Advantages of free health care in South Africa

South Africa has miles to travel before free medical care is availed for its citizens and residents. Even so, below are the possible merits of free medical care.

  • It would improve healthcare equality and bridge the gap between the wealthy and poor in terms of medical care.
  • It would increase longevity because many people pass away too soon due to the inaccessibility of medical services.
  • It would eliminate management costs brought about by dealing with private insurers.
  • It would promote general productivity in the workforce, thus boosting the economy.

How does free health care alleviate poverty in South Africa?

It alleviates poverty by ensuring all individuals and communities receive the medical services they need without experiencing financial hardship. It also ensures the workforce is healthy, thus enhancing their productivity.

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Is there free healthcare in South Africa?

Free medical services in public clinics and hospitals is available for pregnant and nursing mothers, and children under six. There is a provision for free abo*tions too.

Is there free mental health care in South Africa?

Mental health care is not free in private and public facilities. However, the country has multiple organisations and private practices offering free counselling and therapy to citizens and residents.

Are South African public hospitals free?

No, they are not, unless specified in the nation's law. However, most services are heavily subsidised by the government.

Is free health care actually free?

Free healthcare is not actually free. Healthcare that is provided by government agencies is usually funded by citizens, for example, through the NHI scheme.

Is primary health care free in South Africa?

Although everyone has the right to have access to health care services in South Africa, these services are not entirely free in public facilities if you do not have an NHI card. Private facilities do not offer free services.

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Attaining free health care in South Africa is the goal of the government. Although some key milestones, including rolling out NHI, have been marked, much more is still desired.

READ ALSO: What is the biggest hospital in South Africa 2022? Top 10 list (with images) recently published a list of the biggest hospitals in South Africa. The country has numerous public and private clinics, dispensaries, and hospitals.

South Africa is home to some of the best medical facilities in Africa. It also boasts of having some of the best medical practitioners on the continent.

Source: Briefly News

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