How do we respond to inflammatory comments about ‘foreigners draining the healthcare system’?

Refugees, migrants and health care in South Africa, explained

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How do we respond to inflammatory comments about ‘foreigners draining the healthcare system’?

The issue of non-South Africans accessing healthcare has also been the subject of controversial comments made by leaders and politicians. Several academics and organizations have condemned this. In summary, the main points to remember are:

  • When dealing claims that ‘foreigners burden the healthcare system’, it is important to remember that, in South Africa, only 3% of the population are foreign-born, and the number of migrants and refugees using the South African healthcare system is most likely in line with this percentage.
  • Furthermore, research has found that the majority of migrants in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are not moving in search of healthcare, but are typically healthy, as they need to be in good health to travel. This what is called the ‘healthy migrant effect’.
  • Non-South Africans pay for their healthcare services just as South Africans do. Non-South Africans are either subject to the same means-test hospital fees, or they are subject to the highest fees (if undocumented and not from SADC).
  • The problem is not migrants’ use of the healthcare system; it is regarding the governmental planning of budgets with migration in mind. Internal migration (i.e. people moving within the country of their birth) accounts for much more than cross-border migration in SADC. Internal mobility is not taken into account when planning healthcare allocation. Furthermore, some budget and fiscal planning is based on outdated population Updated population statistics and research must be used when planning such services.
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