What about accessing specialist treatment, such as kidney dialysis?

Refugees, migrants and health care in South Africa, explained

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What about accessing specialist treatment, such as kidney dialysis?

In short, this depends on the resources of the South African healthcare system. For specialized care, patients must be placed in a system that ‘queues’ them depending on their medical needs. In this system, refugees, asylum seekers and permanent residents must be treated the same as South African citizens.

The South African healthcare system struggles to provide specialist medical care to all those that need it – especially procedures such as kidney dialysis, or complex cancer treatments. This is due to a lack of resources and other issues. Both non-South Africans and South Africans are affected by this.

When it comes to providing these specialized services, the South African healthcare system must apply a principle called ‘progressive realization’. This the idea that the state must provide as much as it can, within the limitations that exist. They must also make an effort to improve the realization of socio-economic rights for everyone in South Africa. You can read more about this here.

This issue has been explored in South African court cases. The famous Soobramoney case (1997) found that, while the state must always provide everyone with emergency medical treatment, this does not include ‘chronic illnesses for the purpose of prolonging life’.8 The provision of this type of specialist care (such as dialysis) should be administered by hospitals to their best ability.

Patients must be placed in a system that ‘queues’ them depending on their medical needs. In this system, refugees, asylum seekers and permanent residents must be treated the same as South African citizens. There have been cases in which refugees were not provided with specialist services due to their ‘nationality’. If this treatment was denied solely because of the patient’s nationality, it is not constitutional.

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