Does Diagnosis = Debt?

I Haven’t Got a Medical Aid! What Do I Do?

Being told you have cancer is one of the most devastatingly stressful life experiences. As well as the immediate worries about your health, your anxiety about your family, work and financial concerns can be deeply overwhelming.

FACT: More than 80% of patients do not have a medical aid in South Africa!

FACT: Even more women may have allowed their medical aid to run out – or they discover they aren’t in fact covered by their medical aid to the extent they thought they were.

Does this mean you won’t get good care?

* * * The answer to this is an unequivocal NO! * * * 

advocates for breast cancer_debt

Despite the rumours and stereotyping of government healthcare facilities being inadequate, there are many truly excellent government cancer facilities throughout South Africa. It may perhaps mean travelling further from your home which can be costly, but the good news is that there are organisations make it their mission to help patients who don’t have the resources for travelling to a hospital or manage treatments.

In breast cancer, specialists strive to make sure all patients have access to exactly the same standard of care available to private patients. This means:

  • a quick and reliable diagnosis
  • access to the correct medications
  • the same support groups
  • the same research trials

The efficiency and quality of care isn’t always possible because of cost, as is the case with drugs for HER2 positive breast cancer. However, it should not be the case for surgery, reconstruction, chemotherapy or radiation.

2 Big Differences Between Government & Private Services:


  1. If you head to a public specialist breast clinic (available in all our major cities) you will receive the most up-to-date care by specialists who are experts in their field. Interestingly, this care can be of an even higher standard than many of the private hospitals who have less specialist services — and will be available at a huge fraction of the cost, or even free!
  2. Public care may be more inconvenient in terms of potentially having to wait in a clinic to be seen, and needing to take extra care in keeping copies of your results and other medical documentation safe in case of loss. Operations are sometimes delayed due to problems in service. However, it is rare for delays to be longer than international guidelines. For instance, the UK standard is 2 weeks for an appointment to see a specialist, whereas at our Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic in Johannesburg, we see any and every patient (from anywhere in Africa!) in an open access clinic, every Wednesday — so you can be seen the very same week you notice a problem! Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital also has a wonderful open access breast clinic. If you need to visit this clinic, please contact Sister Galima Fish for more information:

Thankfully, there are a number of specialist breast units in South Africa, in both state and private sectors, that treat patients and manage breast cancer without leaving you debt or difficulty.

{ click here for a list of these units + hospitals }

Breast health non-profit organisations also make sure that people are directed to the nearest specialist breast unit. Read here to get in touch with our ABC members – and you can find a complete list of the Cancer Alliance members here.

Kindly written by Dr Sarah Rayne 

Dr Sarah Rayne - Specialist Breast Cancer Surgeon

{Specialist Surgeon with a special interest in breast disease}

Netcare Breast Care Centre and Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic, Johannesburg


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