The healthcare industry in South Africa was established in the 17th century with the arrival of the Dutch East India Company. Joined by Christian missions and colonial governments. When combined with tribal medicine, the industry had a unique mix of traditional healers, modern doctors, and other providers a mix of services.
It wouldn’t be until the 19th century when modern medicine would become the general standard for the industry. Medically-trained doctors and nurses began practicing in each community. Hospitals began to appear in the major city centers.
Early in the 20th century, the Union of South Africa was established. A combination of poor living conditions and disease exposure created numerous challenges for the industry. Poor nutrition, social segregation, and high levels of stress helped to create epidemics of tuberculosis, syphilis, malaria, and even bubonic plague.
Since 1994, the systems of apartheid have made way for a vast public system of healthcare services to be provided. Although it is underfunded and understaffed in many regions, the government is boosting funding to the industry to encourage innovation and better care at the individual level.
Interesting South African Healthcare Industry Statistics
#1. Non-communicable diseases account for about 60% of the underlying causes of death in South Africa. Diabetes mellitus was the leading disease in this category, accounting for over 25,000 deaths in 2015. (Insight Survey)
#2. The rise of non-communicable disease issues within South Africa is directly attributed to an aging population. Over 9% of the deaths in the 65+ age demographic can be attributed to a diabetes mellitus diagnosis. (Insight Survey)
#3. From a global perspective, ischemic heart diseases are the leading cause of death. In South Africa, is the 10th leading cause of death in 2015. (Insight Survey)
#4. More than R187.5 billion was dedicated to the Department of Health by the government of South Africa in 2017. The leading budgetary expense within the health care industry is for district health care services, which received R83.6 billion. (Insight Survey)
#5. R9.9 billion is spent annually by the South African healthcare industry on facilities management and maintenance. (Insight Survey)
#6. In the 2017 budget, R600 million was set aside to commission the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital to provide a higher level of pediatric care within the country. (Insight Survey)
#7. From 2017-2020, the South African government anticipated spending R606 billion on healthcare, with R59.5 billion spent on a conditional grant for HIV and AIDS. (Insight Survey)
#8. 56% of the providers within the South African healthcare industry are classified as general practitioners. Just 6% are classified as anesthetists, followed by 4% who are gynecologists and 3% who are classified as physicians. (Insight Survey)
#9. 35% of the general practitioners which are available within the South African healthcare industry are located in Gauteng. 18% are located in the Western Cape, while 16% are located in KwaZulu-Natal. (Insight Survey)
#10. Just 1% of the general practitioners in South Africa are located in the Northern Cape. (Insight Survey)
#11. In 2017, there are still 15.6% of households in South Africa which do not have a connection to electricity. In 2002, there were 23.4% of households in a similar state. (Statistics South Africa)
#12. Over 88% of households in South Africa had access to piped water in 2017, but in the Eastern Cape, just 74.2% of households had access to this basic service. (Statistics South Africa)
#13. Just 64% of households in South Africa would classify their water-related services as being “good,” and that figure has been declining regularly since 2005. (Statistics South Africa)
#14. 70% of households in South Africa say that they made use of a public hospital, clinic, or medical institution as their first point of care access within the past year. (Statistics South Africa)
#15. 27.4% of households say that they would go to a private doctor, hospital, or clinic first if someone within their family either fell ill or was injured and required care. (Statistics South Africa)
#16. Only 17% of South Africans belong to a medical aid scheme, according to figures released for 2017. When looking at this figure from a household figure, about 1 in 4 households in the country have at least 1 member belonging to a medical aid scheme. (Statistics South Africa)
#17. In South Africa, 2.1% of household spending goes toward purchasing beer. Only 1.5% of household spending goes towards vegetables. Households in the country even spend more on tobacco (1.9%) than they do on vegetables. (Statistics South Africa)
#18. South Africa averages R3,332 per person in spending for healthcare expenses each year for the 45 million people who do not have medical coverage in the country. The highest costs are located in the Northern Cape, where spending reaches R4,082 per person. (Statistics South Africa)
#19. The primary healthcare expenditure in South Africa is for hospital services, which account for 62% of the total budget. Public health services, which include family planning and disease detection, account for another 33% of the healthcare budget.
South African Healthcare Industry Trends and Analysis
Compared to the wealthiest 20% of nations in the world today, the care provided by the South African healthcare industry is still struggling. Those who are able to receive private care, supplemented by public care options, tend to receive the best care available within the country.
The largest burdens of the industry are still related to poverty, more than 20 years after the end of apartheid. Non-communicable diseases and HIV/AIDS continue to be a steep financial burden for all those involved. Until all areas of the healthcare industry end the practice of being systematically underfunded, modern care will continue to be only for those who have the means to afford private care.
Specialist care is difficult to find in South Africa as well. Just 581 doctors classified themselves as a family physician in a 2017 survey by Medpages. There are only 683 psychiatrists and 768 pediatricians. The industry will need to develop more specialist services to meet the evolving needs of the population as it continues to age.
If it does not, then expect more of the struggles the industry has traditionally experienced for at least the next 10 years.