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Cartoon: “You are killing my health system” — Phophi Ramathuba

“Medical xenophobia” is a real issue in South Africa’s public health system. There are many forms of discrimination motivated by hostility to the patient based on their national origins, which are considered a form of xenophobic violence.

South Africa: Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba’s remarks about immigrants have reignited the conversation on medical xenophobia in South Africa. Dr Ramathuba was seen chastising an unnamed Zimbabwean woman, who was in South Africa for medical treatment.

Health care has been a topical and major flashpoint for anti-immigrant sentiments in the country.

The term “medical xenophobia” is often used to describe the negative attitudes and practices. South African health care professionals have shown these negative attitudes towards refugees and migrants. Medical xenophobia involves the bad treatment of foreign migrants and refugees in public health facilities and other practices such as withholding of treatment.

“Medical xenophobia” is a real issue in South Africa’s public health system. There are many forms of discrimination motivated by hostility to the patient based on their national origins, which are considered a form of xenophobic violence.

A research study by Godfrey Tawodzera, and Jonathan Crush published in 2011 explored how medical xenophobia manifests itself in the public health system in South Africa and uncovered several ways in which it manifests.

According to the study: “first, patients are required to show identity documentation, proof of residence status and evidence of a home address before treat­ment is provided. Patients who, for one reason or another, do not have such documentation on their persons can be denied treatment”. 

“Second, communication difficulties arise when health staff refuse to communi­cate with patients in a common language or allow the use of translators. Third, treatment is often accompanied by verbal abuse and xenophobic statements and insults. Fourth, non-South African patients often have to wait until all South African patients have been attended to even if they have been waiting longer for treatment,” the study adds. 

The report concludes with a set of recommendations for rooting out xenophobia in the public health system.

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