When travelling to South Africa, there are a number of health considerations to take into account. Don’t be concerned though, as the health system in the country is a good one and, should you become ill, your health in South Africa will be looked after well. With a few precautions though, the risk of needing to visit a doctor or hospital should be minimal. During emergencies, you should ring 107, which is the emergency services number in the country.
It is incredibly important that you take out travel insurance before taking a gap year in South Africa, as medical bills can be exceedingly high. As with most countries, there is no free health service, so without insurance you’ll have to pay for medical bills out of your own pocket. Various companies offer this and you should compare them carefully before deciding on which one to choose.
There are a number of different vaccinations recommended before travelling to South Africa, although you might already have some of them already. Every traveller should be immunised against cholera, hepatitis B, diphtheria and typhoid, while it is also prudent to consider a vaccination against rabies, as this is found throughout the country. A yellow fever vaccination certificate will also be needed if entering South Africa from certain other countries. A medical professional will be able to provide exact information on the vaccinations you will need.
Malaria is also found in South Africa, and travellers are strongly advised to protect against it with a course of drugs. These can be purchased before you travel and a pharmacist will be able to recommend the best drugs for you. Mosquito repellent and nets should also be used when needed.
Medical Care in South Africa
South Africa generally has good medical care, especially in the larger towns and cities. It is always prudent to know exactly where the closest hospital is to you, and to head there as soon as possible in the event of an emergency. You will be seen as soon as possible, although serious cases will get seen far sooner. If you need medical care, be sure to refer any costs to your insurer – after all, that is what you bought it for!
You never know when you might need a dentist! Dentists will be found in all major towns and cities, however they will be less prevalent when in more rural locations. In South Africa, dental treatment costs money, however it should be covered by your insurance policy – make sure you check before agreeing to any insurance agreement though.
As with travelling to any foreign country, you should always make sure you take enough prescription medication to cover the duration of your trip. If you run out of medication, you will either have to buy the medication from a pharmacy (there are many of these in South Africa) or visit a doctor to get a prescription. Before you leave, make sure you check that your medication is available to buy in South Africa.
South Africa has the sad statistic of being the country with the 4th highest prevalence of HIV in the world (after Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland), with approximately 12% of the population being infected. Different parts of South Africa have different infection rates though. Due to this high prevalence of HIV, all travellers to South Africa should never engage in unprotected sex with anyone, particularly sex workers.