Health FAQ


What emergency services are available?
Emergency services, including ambulance services, are run by provincial health departments. The South African Health Services of the South African National Defence Force also plays a key role in emergencies and disasters.

Motor vehicle accident and trauma rates are high in South Africa, and our state emergency services are overstretched. In recent years, private “rapid response” emergency services have sprung up to fill the much-needed gap.

The biggest is Netcare911, which has the largest fleet of emergency response vehicles – cars, ambulances, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft – and paramedics in the country. Families can join Netcare911 at R240 per year; some medical schemes offer Netcare cover. But this medical rescue service, which is sponsored by cellular network provider Vodacom, will respond to any emergency regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

  • Netcare911’s emergency phone number: 082 911
  • Emergency phone number for the ambulance service – 10177
  • Emergency phone number for the police – 10111
  • For more details on the SA Police Service, go to the SAPS web site
  • For more information on Netcare’s services, go to the Netcare911 web site
  • Another medical rescue company offering similar services around the country and beyond is Medicair

If I go to a state hospital, will I have to pay?
Yes. The amount will depend on how much you earn and on how many dependants you have, according to the hospital rating scale.

At the low end of the scale – that is, if you are unemployed – you will be expected to pay R39 as an outpatient. This will cover your consultation, medication and possible blood or other tests. A pensioner will pay only R13 for the same service. If you are unemployed and need to be admitted, you will pay R194 for up to 30 days.

The maximum a state hospital will charge, if you’re at the top end of the income scale, is R55 for a consultation. However, you will be charged additional amounts for medication and tests. For a stay in hospital, a top-end patient (including those on medical aid) will pay R484.90 per day, excluding medicine and theatre costs.

The government is trying to guide patients away from hospitals to its public clinics and community health care centres – where free primary health care services are available. However, patients on medical aids will be charged.

Can I get specialist treatment at a state hospital?
These services are available at state hospitals, but waiting lists are often very long, depending on the problem or medical procedure needed. If you have medical aid cover it may be easier to go to a private hospital.

How do I find a private hospital in my area?
Private hospitals and clinics can be found in most urban areas:

Netcare. With 43 hospitals and 18 day clinics around the country, Netcare is the biggest private health provider in the country, and offers many specialist services. A total of 2,900 medical professionals are associated with the health care group. Netcare’s web site provides a doctor search (of doctors in the group), as well as information about specific hospitals. Detailed information and photographs are supplied on each hospital, as well as lists of services offered, a doctor search, and hospital and doctor contact details.

Medi-clinic. Another major private health company is the Medi-clinic group. Follow the hospital link to find out about the group’s 35 hospitals around the country. A map provides area-by-area details of each of the hospitals and the services they offer.

How do I find a GP in my area?
Go to the MEDpages website to access an online directory of healthcare professionals and organisations in your area. The site offers a free search containing selective information aimed at the general public. MEDpages also publishes its authoritative directories of healthcare professionals and organisations by region. Get more details from their website, or phone them on 021 441 9700.

All medical practitioners must register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa, and the organisation has a comprehensive database. The organisation also deals with reports of malpractice. Phone them at (012) 338-9300 or visit their web site.

Should I get medical cover?
There is no national medical insurance scheme in South Africa. Private medical schemes, regulated by the Medical Schemes Act, offer group membership or individual cover. Contributions to group schemes are usually split between the employer and employee. Medical aid costs are rapidly rising, partly because of the increase in the price of drugs, medical equipment and doctors’ fees.

The government wants to introduce a social insurance policy requiring all employees to have health insurance. Medical schemes, fearing that an influx of low-income earners into their schemes will place an enormous financial burden on them, are lobbying for a subsidised national health scheme.

Most medical schemes provide a variety of choices for the consumer – from a basic hospital plan to full medical cover. Belonging to a medical aid is becoming increasingly costly and members often have to pay additional expenses. Doctors bills and some private hospital costs often exceed the scale of benefits, or the amount that the medical aid is prepared pay.

Medical aids also place ceilings on various categories of medical expenses – for example, R5,000 per year for dentistry for the family – and if these are exceeded, the member is liable for payment. Some medical aids, like Discovery Health, are encouraging their members to follow healthy lifestyles with a point system that rewards them with benefits for regular exercise, medical check-ups and other practices that reduce illness.

A list of medical aids and related organisations is available online.

For a list of links to all medical schemes registered with the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF), their representative organisation, go to BHF Global or tel: (011) 880 8900. The BHF will also deal with all complaints relating to medical aid malpractice.

What medicines (and advice) can I get over the counter?
Pharmacists may only prescribe up to Schedule 3 drugs, which do not include antibiotics. They may issue oral contraceptives, insulin, thyroid and heart medications and some pain killers, for example.

Pharmacists are trained to give basic medical advice to cut down on wastage from unnecessary visits to the doctor. However, a pharmacist should advise when a visit to the doctor is necessary.

Are there alternative health practitioners in SA? How can I find them?
Scores of alternative health practitioners can be found in South Africa – from homeopaths, to acupuncturists, polarity therapists, sound healers, iridologists … the list is endless. Health shops usually supply information on health practitioners in your area.

Go to the Natural Health Network for a wide variety, if not a comprehensive list, of alternative health practitioners. The site also provides information on various therapies, retreats and health foods available.

Health Pharm offers information on natural healing, focusing mainly on homeopathy and nutrition.

Contact Dr Johan Prinsloo at the Homeopathic Association of South Africa for information on registered homeopaths. Tel: (012) 333 1828 or (012) 333 4920, Fax (012) 547 0315.

What are traditional healers? Are they recognised as bona fide health practitioners?
Many people visit South Africa’s 2,000 traditional healers, and there is a growing recognition of their value to society. Traditional healers, or sangomas, use a combination of plant and animal products for their medicinal potions, known as muti. They also incorporate a spiritual element into the healing process and perform a variety of functions for those who visit them, including doctor, counsellor, priest and psychiatrist. Traditional healers divine with symbols such as bones and other artefacts through which ancestors communicate problems and solutions for their patients.

Attempts are now being made to create more harmony between Western and traditional medicinal practices, which have tended to view each other with suspicion. Research is being conducted on the use of traditional medicines in curing malaria and tuberculosis.

Is abortion legal? Where is it offered?
Yes. Abortion was made legal in South Africa with the implementation of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996. Although 45 449 abortions were performed in state hospitals and clinics in 2001, there is still significant resistance to abortion, based on cultural or religious grounds. Most abortions are administered to girls under the age of 18, which points to the need for more education on safe sex for young people.

Private clinics, including Marie Stopes clinics nationwide also offer abortions.

Where can I buy organic foods?
Major supermarket chains like Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay now offer a limited range of organic produce. Organic food can also be purchased at health food stores and at craft markets like the Michael Mount Organic Market in Bryanston, Johannesburg. Wensleydale Organic Farm outside Johannesburg offers an organic fruit and vegetable delivery service direct to the public.

What is SA’s policy on immunisation?
The national department of health has implemented the Expanded Programme on Immunisation in South Africa (EPI(SA)) as one of the cornerstones of its health care policy. The country follows the World Health Organisation’s recommended immunisation schedule, where infants are routinely vaccinated against nine major childhood diseases including tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, measles, haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) and Hepatitis B.

National immunisation awareness campaigns are held periodically, usually coinciding with Child Health Week (August 6-12). The state spends around R80-million a year on vaccinations for children.