Health system not ready for foreign migrants?

‘€œSouth Africa’€™s public health system, if one looks at it in the past 10 years from 1996 to 2006, has effectively not employed a single extra person’€¦ And over the same period, roughly six million extra people were added to the delivery system, excluding migrants or illegal residents,’€ said van den Heever, adding that the system ‘€œhas not been designed adequately for the domestic population – and definitely not anybody from outside the country.

He predicts that the public health system will ‘€œremain vulnerable for the next 10 years’€.

The system has been on the spotlight following the xenophobic attacks that gripped the country last month, with some reports suggesting that public hospitals and clinics are refusing to treat foreigners. Health care workers sometimes accuse them of being a burden to the already ailing system. But Jo Veary, a senior researcher from the University of Witwatersrand’€™s Forced Migration Studies programme, says the accusation has no basis. She says a recent study by her department conducted among 1190 foreign migrants, shows that there are very few who use South Africa’€™s public health care institutions.

‘€œLess than half reported ever needing health care service; and this includes health service for very minor ailments. Zimbabweans were the group found least likely to be needing health care, whilst not everybody is needing health care. Almost 30% of those who reported needing health care reported challenges when they had been trying to access health care. They were denied treatment because of the documents they do or do not possess,’€ Veary said.

Meanwhile, Van den Heever says the vulnerable health system should not be used as an excuse to chase away foreigners who need health care.

‘€œYou could allow for people to be treated under some sort of conditional basis. You could possibly ask from the source country, if they are illegal residents, remuneration from that country,’€ he said.

Section 27 (3) of the Constitution says no one may be refused emergency medical treatment regardless of nationality, documentation or residence status. But there are still reports of foreigners being denied that right. This poses a challenge to the government to ensure that foreigners do have access to public health care.


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