South Africa

Topic Overview

South Africa is the second largest economy in Africa, and the 34-th largest in the world. Over the past 20 years, as South Africa made the transition from apartheid to democracy, the country has made substantial strides in the healthcare arena. However, South Africa remains beset by persistent social inequality, poverty, a heavy burden of disease, and the inequitable quality of healthcare service provision.

The public healthcare sector provides services to roughly 84% of the South African population without private health insurance, and yet the government spend on healthcare is less than half the total health expenditure.[1] Annual per capita expenditure on health ranges from $1,400 per patient in the private sector to approximately $140 in the public sector. This discrepancy is also reflected in the availability of healthcare providers across the two spheres; around 70% of doctors only work in the private sector, which leaves 30% to service the public sector.[2]

The vast burden of diseases represent a major challenge within the South African health care landscape. South Africa is home to the world’s largest population of people living with HIV and it has one of the highest incidence rates of tuberculosis in the world. In 2013, the leading cause of death in South Africa was tuberculosis at 8.8%, followed by influenza and pneumonia at 5.2%. HIV was the third leading cause of death in the country, accounting for 5.1% of deaths. It is not surprising, therefore, that the majority of the 63 CHMI profiles for South Africa focus on HIV.

South Africa is a developing country, which means that it is a ripe testing ground for entrepreneurship and social innovation. Mobile technology, such as that developed by the Praekelt Foundation, has improved health and well-being for individuals across the nation. For example, txtAlert, a service developed by the Foundation, sends text messages to people with chronic conditions, reminding them to take their medication and keep their appointments. Medical device organizations are also using technology to produce innovative products. For example, Medical Diagnostech produces a rapid point of care diagnostic tests that require no expensive equipment or experienced lab staff; this technology ensures results within 30 minutes for malaria and HIV.

CHMI collaborates with the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship to identify, analyse, and connect innovations and entrepreneurs emerging in the South African healthcare landscape. The Bertha Centre is the first academic institution in Africa dedicated to research, teaching, dialogue and support of social innovations that positively change and challenge rules, policies, technologies, structures, beliefs, and institutions.


[1] Bulletin of the WHO, Volume 88:2010, Volume 88, Number 11, November 2010, 797-876

[2] Bulletin of the WHO, Volume 88:2010, Volume 88, Number 11, November 2010, 797-876

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