The World Economic Forum’s review of 144 countries in terms of the quality of healthcare might not put South Africa in the most positive light; but there are many factors we need to look at when actually deciding which nation comes in at the top.
South Africa’s national healthcare system may be ranked 132nd out of 144 countries reviewed by the World Economic Forum, but that does not necessarily mean you’ll automatically find greener pastures elsewhere. Many South Africans use private healthcare though which is comparable to some of the best in the world, and ensuring your health needs are covered up to this standard is not straight forward.
This is according to Andrew Taylor, Group Vice Chairman of Henley & Partners, international leaders in residence and citizenship planning. Taylor says that people who leave South Africa to pursue work or other opportunities often neglect to think about the healthcare systems of the countries to which they are moving.
“They assume that they will have it better elsewhere, but that is not always the case,” says Taylor.
Each individual thinking of moving, and their family, must think about the package of healthcare services they currently enjoy and evaluate whether they’ll be able to maintain it in the new country.
“The healthcare systems in some other countries such as Portugal and Cyprus, for example, are ranked highly owing to an efficient and well-run nationalised healthcare system,” Taylor says. “But accessing such social benefits might initially be difficult if not impossible for expatriates, as some governments limit access to their own citizens.”
Instead, he says, many people who move countries will have to rely on employer-based or private healthcare schemes until earning citizenship or permanent residence rights. Taylor says there is no substitute in this scenario for planning, which might include seeking the advice of people and organisations that possess the expertise and experience in residence and citizenship planning.
Another consideration, over and above reliance on national healthcare systems, is international health insurance. To have it is vital, he says, when moving to, or even just visiting, another country.
“You need international cover when travelling anywhere to comprehensively cover the risks of sickness or accidents. Anyone who lives or works abroad, runs a company or retires there should arrange insurance cover that is extensive and applicable around the world,” he adds.
Quality of the healthcare is another factor to consider, says Taylor. After all, given that your health has direct bearing on your ability to work and your quality of life, you would not want to move to a country without an adequate healthcare system.
But which countries overall have the best healthcare systems in the world?
There hasn’t been a serious attempt to produce a comprehensive ranking of global healthcare systems in fifteen years, after the World Health Organisation tried in the year 2000. That report drew severe criticism from governments and healthcare professionals who said differing contexts make comparisons unhelpful.
Yet there have been some attempts on a smaller scale. The Commonwealth Fund, for example, produced a report that ranked the healthcare systems of eleven countries in 2014, including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. The United Kingdom in that report was ranked highest.
However, Taylor cautions that rankings can be misleading if not read in context. Countries like Australia and the United States rank low on factors such as equity and access, but score highly on the quality of care provided.
“Therefore it is important to do detailed research to assess whether your individual healthcare needs, expectations and budget match that of the country you’d like to move to,” Taylor says.
“Even though the Commonwealth Fund ranks the UK at or near the top across almost all measures, its health outcomes – life expectancy, infant mortality and mortality amenable to healthcare – are the second worst,” says Taylor.
He adds that this could be because of the lifestyle of the people in the country or it could be other factors such as their reluctance to seek medical care.
The bottom line, however, is that evaluating whether your healthcare needs will be met in a new country is a highly individualised process that should not be ignored.
“You wouldn’t take the chance with any other aspect of your relocation,” Taylor says, “so why would you take the risk with your health?”
This article was originally publishes on TheSouthAfrican.com