Updated 05 July 2016

Rural disabled struggle with healthcare

A recent University of Stellenbosch psychology doctorate looks at the barriers people with disabilities in the Eastern Cape face when trying to access healthcare.


In a recent statement South Africa’s Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini defined disability as both a cause and consequence of poverty: “It is a cause because it can lead to job loss and reduced earnings, barriers to education and skills development, significant additional expenses, and many other challenges that can lead to economic hardship.”

Read: SA's disabled trapped in cycles of poverty
Regarding healthcare, Minister Dlamini added: “It is also a consequence of poverty because poverty can limit access to the health care needed to prevent disability or prevent existing disabilities from becoming worse.”

Four million disabled!

One of the most comprehensive legal definitions of disability in South Africa is in section 18(3) of the Income Tax Act No. 58 of 1962, which defines disability to mean, "a moderate to severe limitation of a person's ability to function or perform daily activities as a result of physical, sensory, communication, intellectual or mental impairment . . .”

Read: Preventative strategies for disability

Resulting from a recent change in definition, 7.5 percent of South Africa’s population can now be classified as disabled. In a population of 53 million this translates to close to four million people!

Fortunately, if you have a physical or mental disability which makes you unfit to work for a period of longer than six months, you can apply for a disability grant of around R1500 per month.

There are also non-profit organisations like the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA), which is a leading disability organisation that aims to enable, support and enhance the quality of life for persons with disabilities.

Healthcare for the disabled

“Free” health care in State hospitals isn’t always free and for people who live in rural areas it can be difficult and expensive to get to the nearest healthcare facility. Research carried out in Mpumalanga found that costs associated with accessing health care sometimes amounted up to 60 percent of household income in homes with disabled people.

In a recent University of Stellenbosch psychology doctorate, Dr Richard Vergunst looked at the barriers persons with disabilities in Madwaleni in the Eastern Cape face when trying to access healthcare.

This impoverished rural area suffers from poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, limited access to health care and education, high incidence of communicable diseases and high mortality rates. With the help of 17 local community health workers, Vergunst was able to collect data of 773 Madwaleni residents in 527 households.

Physical and attitudinal barriers

According to Vergunst, “People with disabilities in Madwaleni face physical barriers such as transport, transport costs, the actual journey to the health centre, accommodation at health centres, drugs and equipment provision.

“Attitudinal barriers included perceptions of negative attitudes by health care providers, perceptions of more denial of treatment by health care providers, and perceptions that they were treated worse by health care providers.”

Read: Healthcare industry undergoing transformation

Vergunst says the situation of Madwaleni residents can improve through better training and education of health care providers regarding disability and through increased awareness about the daily struggles of people with disabilities,

He adds that the aim is to present the findings of the study to key stakeholders, including chiefs and community leaders in Madwaleni so that locally relevant interventions, such as disability awareness workshops, can be discussed and implemented.

Read more:

Man struggles for almost 10 years to get a disability grant

Healthcare depends on social factors

Fraud in SA healthcare system


Mondaq: South Africa: Definitions Of Disability And The 2011 Census.

The National Council for People with Disabilities in SA.

South African Government: Disability Grant.


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