The reality of accessing healthcare in South Africa

It is clear that non-South Africans have several rights to access healthcare in South Africa. But in reality, things are different. There are several angles to think about.

Some migrants and refugees are denied access to healthcare simply because they are foreign.

There have been several instances of migrants and refugees being denied treatment solely based on their nationality. This is known as ‘medical xenophobia’. See Section 12 for a list of organizations to contact should you be denied medical treatment because of your nationality or status in South Africa.

Migrants or refugees being denied treatment is not always due to “medical xenophobia”.

However not all instances of poor treatment are ‘medical xenophobia’. For it to be xenophobic, medical treatment has to be wrongfully denied on the grounds of someone’s nationality or legal stay. There are other grounds that medical care might be wrongly denied. The healthcare system in South Africa is found to be in an ‘advanced state of disrepair in large parts of the country’. Staff can be highly stressed in such environments, and South Africans also face discrimination in accessing medical care.

The laws about non-South Africans’ access to healthcare are not consistent and create confusing situations for medical staff. People working in hospitals are given unclear guidance on who can be treated. This is not helped by the fact that the Department of Health has published circulars or memos which confuse medical staff about migrants’ and refugees’ rights to access health care. Remember, the laws explained in section X override circulations, policies and memos.