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.