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New booklet clarifies migrants’ rights to free healthcare in SA

SECTION27 has launched an online publication titled Free healthcare services in South Africa: A case for all mothers and children, in collaboration with partner organisations to clarify laws on who has access to free health services, particularly regarding undocumented people and foreign nationals.

The centre held a webinar with panelists who also provided facts on whether migrants burden the system, specifically in Gauteng, reports The Citizen.

National Health Care ACT

The National Health Care ACT (NHA) states that all pregnant, lactating women and children under six are entitled to free healthcare services – including people seeking asylum, undocumented foreign nationals and those affected by statelessness.

From May 2020, the SECTION27 advisory office had received an influx of migrant pregnant women and children who complained they have been denied access to healthcare services. Some were required to pay medical fees to be assisted.

The centre’s attorney, Sibusisiwe Ndlela, said they investigated the allegations and discovered that the Gauteng Department of Health had introduced new Policy Implementation Guidelines on Patient Administration and Revenue Management in 2020.

“What the policy dictates is that all categories of migrant persons, except documented refugees, were now required to pay exorbitant amounts of money to access services at hospitals,” said Ndlela.

Ndlela said they found the new policy troubling, discriminatory and a contradiction of the National Health Care ACT.

As a result, the centre launched an application in the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) against the MEC for Health in Gauteng, the Minister of Health, the director-general for Health and Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital.

The application is set to confirm access to free healthcare irrespective of nationality and to set aside the new policies that are “medically xenophobic” to pregnant women and children under six years.

Constitutional rights of children

Senior attorney at the Centre for Child Law Liesl Muller said the constitutional right to healthcare is applicable to everyone within the borders of South Africa, regardless of their migrant status.

“In our practice, we see a massive amount of children who suffer from the failings of the Department of Home Affairs in documenting them.

“The department and its policies have recently come under fire in the Constitutional Court, which had to strike down the section in the Birth and Death registration Act allowing only mothers to register children born out of wedlock,” Muller said.

Effects of denial of medical care

One of the panelists, Tasanya Nomaliso Chinsamy, medical activity manager at Doctors Without Borders, laid out the consequences of limiting access to healthcare.

She said the effects were biological, psychological and social, and that the patients develop anxiety, mental health strain and depression as their condition deteriorates. This could result in life-threatening emergencies if they are not managed properly simply because they cannot afford to pay.

“If we send people away from hospital we might not have early detection of some of the dangerous notifiable conditions we are looking for and for which we are always doing surveillance, which is an issue of public health concern,” Chinsamy said.

This could then lead to the spread of HIV and TB, affecting the general population.


The Citizen article – SECTION27’s new booklet clarifies migrants’ rights to access free health care (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Operation Dudula protesters force migrants to pay for healthcare


Limpopo MEC under fire over migrants comments


NGO takes Health MEC to court for immigrants to access healthcare


Medical xenophobia and discrimination widespread in Gauteng health care


Battle looms over migrant rights to access NHI services




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