South African citizens enjoy the privilege to both private and public healthcare, depending on their financial position. While this creates a divide, it should also be noted for being incredibly progressive in comparison to other countries such as the USA where medical care is prohibitively expensive.
When we look at the law and matters related to healthcare in South Africa, we always start with The Constitution, where under section 27, everyone is guaranteed the right to healthcare services. Interestingly under section 27(3), the constitution guarantees everyone to the right to emergency medical treatment, meaning someone may not be turned away due to socio-economic factors in the event of an emergency.
Working in conjunction with the provision set out in the Constitution we find the National Health Act 61 of 2003, which effectively sets out the “framework for a structured uniform health system”. All other laws, some of which will be mentioned below, must work under the guidelines established by this act. The act also further entrenches a patient’s right to medical care from a private or public health services provider in the case of an emergency.
The law on healthcare in South Africa is remarkably progressive - not only does it cater to those who suffer from a mental illness under the Mental Health Care Act 17 of 2002, but it also protects reproductive rights under The Sterilisation Act 12 of 1998 and The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 92 of 1996.
Aside from physical healthcare, medicines are also strongly regulated in South Africa and the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Act, No 72 of 2008 created the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority or SAHPRA. This organisation functions as a juristic body with the responsibility of registering products as either medicine, complementary medicine or foodstuff. Furthermore, under the medicines act, only registered products are allowed to be sold in South Africa.
Lastly, just like our Constitution has a bill of rights, the Department of Health also respects the Patient’s Rights Charter which lays out the services and treatment a patient is entitled to as well the patient’s responsibilities in the matter. It is well worth it to know these rights in full and to call out medical staff where necessary.
If you are need of legal medical advice or feel that your rights as a patient have been violated, please feel free to reach out to us and we will refer your query to a lawyer in our network that suits your needs. And remember to know your rights.
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