Health issues in South Africa


One of the most important aspects of living in South Africa (or anywhere for that matter) is maintaining good health.

Although South Africa has what medical authorities regard as one of the healthiest climates in the world, a tradition of playing sports and enjoying an active, outdoor lifestyle, access to plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and some of the planet’s cleanest air, its people aren’t as healthy as might be imagined.

South Africa’s major public health concerns are HIV/AIDS, smoking-related diseases and tuberculosis, all of which affect the non-white population more than the white. Apart from that, the country is relatively free of major health problems, which is a surprise to some people, given Africa’s reputation as a continent riven by diseases and other health hazards.

Although South Africa’s life expectancy statistics can come as a shock to Westerners (in 2003, life expectancy at birth was 46.56 years for the total population), life expectancy for white South Africans is similar to that of most Europeans, Australasians and North Americans thanks to better access to health information, contraception and healthcare, as well as a much lower death rate from murder (the majority of South Africa’s many murders are of non-whites by other non-whites, mainly in the townships).


Immunisations aren’t currently required or even recommended for those visiting South Africa’s major cities and coastal resort areas (although some doctors recommend you to check that your polio and tetanus jabs are up-to-date), unless you’ve come from an area where yellow fever is endemic (for example, Kenya, Tanzania and the northern half of South America), in which case you need to carry documentary proof that you’ve been vaccinated. This situation, however, could change and you’re recommended to consult your doctor at least six weeks before travelling to the country to check the current situation.

For those travelling off the beaten track in South Africa for any length of time, some doctors recommend shots against typhoid and a Havrix injection against hepatitis A. Vaccinations against hepatitis B are needed only by those who will be working in healthcare, while a cholera vaccination is both unpleasant and generally ineffective.

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Other comments

  • Tamara Jardine - A South African, 12 February 2009 Reply


    As a white South African I am disgusted how this article implies that WHITE SOUTH AFRICAN'S are better off health-wise. I think that anyone reading this, that has not visited this beautiful country would think Apartheid is still very much alive. Us white South Africans are only 11% of the population and vary in class. Medical is not free here and therefore many (White, Black, Indian, Coloured) all suffer - I think this article would have been more effective had it been explained using Urban or Rural as a divide, NOT RACE!!!

    • Carla 15 May 2012, 04:59

      Don't make assumptions

      I agree completely. I'm a medical student in South Africa, and the people suffering most in terms of poor access to adequate health facilities and care are those living in rural areas, and the majority of these people happen to be Black and unemployed or earning very little. Yes, Apartheid screwed ALL South Africans royally, but unfortunately the majority of that majority are Black people, but we're trying to gain equity in access to all services for everyone, not just the previously disadvantaged. People of all skin colours access private health care facilities, some subtypes in greater numbers than others, but this does not mean that one subtype is in better health than the others. Also, if you can afford to, then you access a private facility. People of all skin colours can afford to, not just White people. The reasons why the majority of poor people are Black is a topic that should be discussed on its own. Don't generalise, please, that's ignorant and arrogant.

  • Lauren Bester, 12 February 2009 Reply

    South Africa wrongfully portrayed


    I have read this article and was greatly surprised at the complete generalisation and lack of adequate knowledge.

    I am what you state as 'a white South African' I have to pay for adequate healthcare and to be informed, what you have written is more for the rural areas as there are many what you call 'non-white South Africans' in the metropolitan areas that pay for adequate healthcare and to be informed just like I do.

    Statistics stated look worse because the actual ratio of the racial aspect you have so clearly underlined in this article has not been taken into account.

  • Desmond, 20 February 2011 Reply

    fact is fact

    Fact is that Statistic South Africa's figures are also still in accordance with race. The reason is that while Apartheid is gone- its effects still exist and are visible. Race no longer explains EVERYTHING in South Africa because we have made some progress, but there is much to be done still.
    South African’s shouldn’t shy away from racial references but should beat apartheid by looking at its effects head-on with Mandela-like vision.

    • Bernard Mutsago 10 Jul 2012, 08:30

      Look at the bigger picture

      "the country is relatively free of major health problems".

      Lets not flatter ourselves just to lure those outside. Look at the system as a whole and come up with better conclusions