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South Africa Health Care System

The assessment of the country’s health care system is an important step in the evaluation of the positive and negative aspects of medical services delivery in the given country. This will be beneficial for tracking the overall performance of the system, monitor the basic actions of the public and the private sector as well as assess the common trends in health care access, the affordability of services, and the quality of care reported by patients.

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Therefore, the following report will determine the role the health care systems of South Africa play in delivering the population access to appropriate health care services at the same time with addressing the major health issues. Furthermore, the report will outline the effect culture has on the perception of health in the country, pointing at the beneficial and harmful practices for health.

Role of the South African Health Care System

A health system is defined as “all actors, institutions, and resources that undertake health actions – where a health action is one where the primary intent is to improve health” (Skolnik, 2012, p. 88). Therefore, a health system is a combination of agencies that regulate health care, those that provide clinical and preventative services, the resources that fund health care, and those that provide specialized inputs into health care.

When outlining the nature of health care in South Africa, the Department of health has the dominant responsibility for the health system in the country, especially in the public sphere. In order to achieve the goal of improving the health condition of the South African Population, the Department of Health has outlined 4 crucial objectives of increasing the expectancy of life, decrease child and maternal mortality, strengthen the effectiveness of the country’s health care system, and combat the burden associated with HIV/AIDS (South African Government, 2014, para. 3).

The health care system in South Africa is divided into two sectors: large public and small private. However, the private health care sector is of very high quality as in some cases exceeds the care provided by the European medical facilities. This is connected with the increased funding of the private sector which attracts many professionals in the field who seek good working conditions, respectable payment, as well as advanced technologies to facilitate their practice.

The role of every part of the South African health system is directly connected with ensuring that the main focus is put on the population’s health rather than on medical care, recognizing that the community is the most important component of a quality health care system, emphasizing crucial role health workers play in the health care system, ensuring the compliance with the human rights in terms of healthcare, and reducing the risks of the diseases that can negatively affect the population’s health.

The accomplishments of the South African health care system since 1994 included the public sector free primary health care, which also involves an essential program for drugs and the legislation opposing the use of tobacco, as well as the better health systems management (expansion of clinics, programs for malaria control, improved immunization, etc.). Despite the achievements, the South African health care system is still burdened by the negative impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that did not receive enough effort in terms of its elimination.

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According to the 2012 survey, 12,2% of the South African population was diagnosed as HIV positive (Shisana et al., 2012, p. 14). The prevention and elimination of HIV/AIDS along with the improvements in terms of health care quality will require additional funding efforts to be included in the national system of health insurance (Harrison, 2009, p. 2). However, given the scale of such a challenge, there is a positive prospect for the government to achieve progress.

South African Traditions and Their Impact on Population’s Health

The greatest diversity of the populations around the world can be reflected in their attitudes towards health as well as in the effect their traditions play in day-to-day life. Furthermore, the differences in health behavior, the use of various substances like tobacco and alcohol, and the cultural factors can become great determinants for the population’s health status (Schooler & Baum, 2000, p. 3).

One of the traditions of the South African population relates to visiting traditional healers. According to Kate Wilkinson’s report (2014) in Africa Check, the World Health Organization made a claim that 80% of the South African population “depends on traditional medicine for primary health care” (para. 2). However, such a claim has not been supported by substantial evidence.

It has been reported that the rural black communities of South Africa often consult traditional healers due to high levels of poverty (Semenya & Potgieter, 2014, p. 1). Furthermore, 60% of such consultations occur in non-medical settings (Environmental Affairs and Tourism Republic of South Africa, 2005, p. 11).

Nevertheless, some groups living in rural areas of South African towns, do, indeed, visit traditional healers to solve their health problems. The results of the 2013 South Africa Statistics showed that only 1.5% percent of the population first consult “other” medical facilities like spiritual healers while 81,3% consult the public sector health care (Wilkinson, 2014, para. 23). Despite the small percent, such a tradition still greatly harms the health of the small population groups since traditional medicine rarely offers a long-term solution for an illness.

Sports are very popular in terms of the cultural heritage of South Africa. The most popular are cricket, rugby, and cricket. Other sports that get significant support both from the government and the general public are swimming, boxing, athletics, and tennis. Since the population is greatly engaged in various sports activities, the health of the South African communities can be greatly improved in terms of the physical state. Apart from sports, South Africa also has a great impact on the Scouting movement (South African Scout Association), which advocates a healthy lifestyle for the adults and the youth of all races and genders.


The South African Department of Health is the main body responsible for providing free health care in the public sector. The private sector operates much more efficiently and experiences little professionals’ shortages linked to poor financing. The primary goal of the country’s health care system relates to lowering the HIV/AIDS rates which are currently high (12% of the population affected).

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The active lifestyle traditions are beneficial for the overall health of the South African citizens while the traditional methods of medicine practiced by some groups of the population cannot offer the safest and the most effective treatment for illnesses, especially when it comes to HIV/AIDS, that remains the largest challenge for the South African health care system.


Environmental Affairs and the Tourism Republic of South Africa. (2005). South Africa’s national biodiversity strategy and action plan.

Harrison, D. (2009). An overview of health and health care in South Africa 1994 – 2010: Priorities, progress and prospects for new gains.

Schooler, T., & Baum, A. (2000). On the health of diverse populations. In R. Eisler & M. Hersen (Eds.), Handbook of gender, culture, and health (pp. 3-11). Mahwah, NJ: Routeledge.

Semenya, S., & Potgieter, M. (2014). Bapedi traditional healers in the Limpopo Province, South Africa: Their socio-cultural profile and traditional healing practice. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed, 10(4), 1-12.

Shisana, O., Rehle, T., Simbayi, LC., Zuma, K., Jooste, S., Zungu, N., Labadarios, D., & Onoya, D. (2014). South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey. Cape Town, South Africa: HSRC Press.

Skolnik, R. (2012). Global health 101 (2nd ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

South African Government. (2014). Health.

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Wilkinson, K. (2014). Do 80% of S. Africans regularly consult traditional healers? The claim is false.

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