NHI Snippets (2): Poor health in South Africa

Oops, an earlier version of this post had incorrect information! – I copied it from what I thought was a reliable source but didn’t check it.  This is what happens when writing late at night!  In future, if any readers notice mistakes, please let me know.  Here is the corrected version …

“In my previous post I made two points – one, that South Africa spends a large amount on private health care and, two, that the health of South Africans is poor in comparison to other countries of equivalent wealth.

I’m going to elaborate the second point here.

Set aside for a moment the question of why health is poor, and concentrate on grasping some simple health indicators.

One of the most shocking statistics is that, every year, 147 women die from causes linked to child birth for every 100,000 births.  This is known as ‘the maternal mortality rate’ and is around 4 times higher than the target of 38 set for the Millennium Development Goals (high-income countries usually have rates that are in the single digits as shown here). 

Of course, one could argue that South Africa’s high maternal mortality rate reflects the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  This is true to some extent:  it is estimated that just under half (around 44%) of maternal deaths can be attributed to HIV/AIDS.1  Yet this still leaves South Africa with a high non-HIV/AIDs-related maternal mortality rate and, in any case, a good health system should be able to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on maternal mortality.

Here are some indicators that reflect the poor health of children in South Africa:



(around 2008)

2015 Millennium Development Goal target

Number of children who die before they reach the age of 5 for every 1,000 who are born



Number of children who die before they reach the age of 1 for every 1,000 who are born



For a later post I’ll find you some graphs that show how this performance compares to other upper middle-income countries.

I’ll also see whether I can source some more up-to-date statistics for South Africa from the Medical Research Council’s Burden of Disease Unit.”


1.  Burden of Disease Unit.  2008.  Every death counts:  saving the lives of mothers, babies and children in South Africa – data supplement.  Cape Town:  Medical Research Council.  (Click on the link to read this easy-to-understand policy brief or click here to read the academic article that was published in The Lancet.)

2.  National Department of Health.  2011.  Human Resources For Health South Africa.  HRH Strategy for the Health Sector 2012/13-2016/17.  Pretoria:  National Department of Health.

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