South Africa has a relatively advanced health care system, treating most, if not all, conditions and diseases. Care is available via two channels, namely the private and the public health systems. Which one you make use of depends on your financial means. It is therefore advisable to have medical insurance (or medical “aid” as it is known locally) if you are going to be spending any significant length of time in South Africa, as there can be a substantial waiting period when making use of public health facilities. Make sure that you choose a policy that adequately covers your needs, and also makes provision for any hospitalisation situation.
Visiting the doctor in South Africa requires making an appointment beforehand. If you simply arrive you may have to wait for a very long time. Doctors usually expect to be paid immediately, or at least to be given your medical aid details so that they can claim for the consultation. You will have to fill in a form on your first visit to the doctor, giving personal information and medical aid details, if you are subscribed to one.
Medication is available at pharmacies, and is also dispensed by some doctors. Pharmacists tend to be very knowledgeable about the products that they sell, so sometimes you do not even need to go to a doctor – you can go directly to the pharmacist, who will be able to assist you. The dispensing of medication in South Africa also works on a prescription basis for some medicines, so be aware of this if you require chronic or serious medication.
There are no diseases that are specifically endemic to South Africa, but the following conditions should be kept in mind. Firstly, there is a relatively high prevalence of HIV/Aids in South Africa (up to 1 in every 10 people is affected by the condition in some way). Therefore, please ensure that you act responsibly at all times. Also, tuberculosis (TB) is prevalent in the Cape Town area of the Western Cape, due to the heavy winter rainfall pattern. However, TB is a lifestyle disease, meaning that by avoiding high-risk activities such as smoking and careless exposure to inclement weather, it can be avoided. In the north of the country, malaria is sometimes encountered, although there are effective counter-measures to this condition, such as medication.