Refugees, migrants and health care in South Africa, explained
Keep up to date with our Teach-Yourself Series – condensed articles on migration issues in South Africa. Our articles and infographics aim to spread awareness on South Africa’s migration landscape, and our standpoints on the issue. This is a joint init …
- How is the South African healthcare system structured?
- What does the law say about migrants and refugees accessing healthcare in South Africa?
- Who pays what at clinics and hospitals?
- What about accessing specialist treatment, such as kidney dialysis?
- What about organ transplants?
- What about accessing treatment for HIV or TB?
- What about accessing private hospitals?
- The reality of accessing healthcare in South Africa
- How do we respond to inflammatory comments about ‘foreigners draining the healthcare system’?
- What is needed to improve the situation?
- I have more questions. Who can I ask?
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.