Health system challenges affecting rehabilitation services in South Africa

Linzette Deidré Morris, Karen Anne Grimmer, Asterie Twizeyemariya, Marisa Coetzee, Dominique Claire Leibbrandt, Quinette Abegail Louw

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that access to rehabilitation is a human right. To date, however, rehabilitation in South Africa has not been a health priority. The focus has rather been on saving lives from communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDs and TB, which has been increasingly successful. Whilst more South Africans are now living with pharmacologically managed chronic, communicable diseases, they often suffer significant challenges to their physical and mental health. Moreover, there are many health conditions in South Africa that have not attracted as much attention, and which also compromise individuals’ capacity to contribute effectively to their own wellbeing, that of their families and communities, and to the general economy. These include birth trauma, degenerative neurological conditions, acquired injuries such as spinal cord damage, limb amputation or head trauma, and chronic noncommunicable diseases (heart or kidney disease, stroke). In the absence of robust prevalence studies, it is estimated that one-in-three adults suffer from at least one chronic health challenge. For South Africa not to invest in rehabilitation is counter-productive, as it means that a significant percentage of its population cannot contribute to its economy. In the face of scant health resources to underpin equitable rehabilitation services, evidence needs to be provided to demonstrate that for increased expenditure on rehabilitation, there will be increased return at individual, family, society, and country levels. Purpose: This article presents challenges and solutions to ensure that South Africa can meet WHO 2030 Rehabilitation Goals for equitable provision of effective public rehabilitation services using the WHO’s health system building block framework.IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATION To meet the challenge of providing rehabilitation for those in need requires country-specific, strategic, evidence-informed, and planned decisions in terms of best investment for highest return. Whilst there is sound international evidence for best-practice rehabilitation care, country-specific strategies are required to identify and address local barriers to evidence implementation. In South Africa, where rehabilitation has not been a priority to date, it is important that a planned and well-costed approach is taken to ensure provision of equitable, accessible, affordable, and evidence-based rehabilitation. Measuring social, economic, and educational return on investment from rehabilitation should be part of the South African service-delivery planning process. National data could be obtained through adding additional questions on disability to the national census and through local surveys and reports at various public health care facilities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)877-883
    Number of pages7
    JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2021


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