South Africa’s health system reflects its complex history, with stark differences between the public and private sectors. Only about 14% of the population is privately insured. Although some uninsured people do access healthcare services, including medicines, in the private sector, mostly they are dependent on a relatively under-resourced public sector.
There are over 17,000 pharmacists registered in South Africa, most of whom qualified at one of the country’s nine pharmacy schools. These schools produce about 800 graduates per year. Almost two-thirds of all registered pharmacists are women. About 5,500 pharmacists are employed in the public sector, predominantly at the 623 public hospitals. Most pharmacists work in the almost 4,000 community pharmacies in the private sector. There are also pharmacists employed in over 300 private hospitals, as well as in manufacturing and wholesale practice. Smaller numbers of pharmacists are employed in such specialist roles as clinical trials and pharmacy benefit management services.
A key challenge for pharmacy in South Africa is to provide equitable access to a comprehensive pharmacy service for all. Like many countries, South Africa is in the process of reforming its health system to ensure universal health coverage. Pharmacy is a key stakeholder in that process.