South Africa today is in the process of much change. Optimism and improvements for all are in the air while the sheer magnitude of the task sometimes proves to be a little overwhelming.
The richer parts of the country such as the Western Cape, Gauteng and the area around Durban in Kwa-Zulu Natal have excellent state hospitals and services while poorer regions are not so well serviced and equipment can be somewhat limited.
There are no reciprocal arrangements with the health services of any country and all patients, whether citizens, residents or non-residents, pay for hospital services according to their means. Costs are low by Western standards but unless the treatment comes under emergencies, waiting times can be long.
Private healthcare facilities are excellent, on a par with any in Europe or the USA, and are widely available throughout the country. These are run by two main companies: Netcare, with 43 hospitals and 18 day clinics spread throughout the country and Mediclinic, which has about 35 hospitals. A number of smaller companies also run hospitals and clinics around the country.
Visitors and those staying for longer periods in South Africa, are strongly advised to take out good medical insurance, which should include rapid response cover. Rapid response teams are a private ambulance service with the most up to date equipment and staff. Netcare 911 has the largest fleet of ambulances in the country. The state ambulance service, while good, is stretched to the limits owing to a large number of traffic accidents.
Should you need a general practitioner, the Health Professionals Council of South Africa will put you in touch with one in your area. They can be contacted through the website www.hpsca.co.za or by phoning +27 012 333 9300 or 012 333 6680. When you visit the GP, be prepared to pay or present your insurance cover documents. A consultation with a GP will cost about 200 ZAR (about 14.4 GBP).
In general, most of South Africa offers a healthy, outdoor lifestyle and there is little need for visitors to take special precautions. However, if you intend travelling off the beaten track into the more remote areas of the country it is advisable to have typhoid and hepatitis A vaccinations.
Malaria is prevalent in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal and the lowveld regions of Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, and the necessary course of medication should be started before setting out for these areas. Apart from taking pills, using mosquito repellent, sleeping under a mosquito net and avoiding sitting outside after sunset are important aids in avoiding malaria.
You are advised to avoid swimming in rivers that flow to the east, as bilharzia is prevalent in these areas - although it is easily treatable if caught early enough, it can be a pretty unpleasant illness.
HIV/aids is present in South Africa and every effort must be made to avoid contracting the disease through wise precautions.
In South Africa most tap water has undergone rigorous purification processes and is considered safe for human consumption. However the difference in mineral composition from district to district can cause initial tummy upsets and you may choose to drink bottled water instead. In the more remote areas where good water is unavailable, bottled water is essential.
- Netcare 911's emergency phone number: 082 911
- Emergency phone number for the ambulance service - 10177