October 21, 2005

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has criticised the country's healthcare sector, claiming that a de facto "apartheid" system still operates and calling for a basic healthcare package to be made available to all South Africans.

Industry observers claim that SAMA is effectively lobbying for the introduction a state-run National Health System, to be funded by progressive taxation. Under the scheme, the majority of money spent on healthcare would be allocated to the public sector. Currently, ZAR60bn (US$9.1bn) is spent on private health care -- which has a little over 5m insured members -- while ZAR40bn (US$6.05bn) is left to cover the public sector and 40mn low-income citizens.

The proposed system could shrink the private sector, which would remain available for a relatively affluent minority. However, private healthcare is one of the growth sectors of South Africa's economy -- which is characterised by high levels of unemployment -- and the government is unlikely to risk destabilising the industry.

Healthcare provision is a continuing problem in South Africa, with the public sector suffering from a lack of funding and staff shortages. Recent government measures have included tax breaks to encourage private companies to embrace provision for low and middle-income citizens.