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South Africa


All MSF project staff in South Africa have been moved to COVID-19 response teams in the Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces. Our staff are assisting with contact tracing, the development and dissemination of health promotion materials, and the set-up of health care facilities. We are making plans to assist further by partnering on triage, isolation and treatment interventions. 

We are ensuring HIV/TB patients have medicine refills delivered to their homes during the pandemic. 

In northern Gauteng, in and around Pretoria, our activities focus on mitigating the impact of the national 21-day lockdown on vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers, the elderly and homeless. 

In South Africa’s biggest city and the capital of Guateng, Johannesburg, a mobile team is conducting primary healthcare consultations and COVID-19 screenings in three homeless shelters.

Triage tents and handwashing facilities have been set up at MSF-supported facilities in Eshowe (KwaZulu-Natal) and Rustenburg (North West province).


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South Africa has the largest HIV patient cohort in the world and is helping to lead the way in gaining access to new treatments for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

The South African HIV/AIDS pandemic saw life expectancy in the country fall by ten years between 1992 and 2005, largely due to the failure of the national government to take steps in addressing the problem.

Médecins Sans Frontières has worked in South Africa since 1999.

Since 2012, as part of its outreach testing services, MSF has annually performed thousands of HIV tests in over 30 high schools. This has not only increased HIV testing coverage in the district, but also demonstrated the feasibility of delivering sexual and reproductive health services on school grounds.

MSF’s project in KwaZulu-Natal province utilises community-oriented strategies to reduce the incidence of diseases and mortality, and to increase integrated HIV testing and tuberculosis (TB) screening, as well as access and adherence to HIV treatment.

MSF initiatives to decentralise drug resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) care are underway in King Cetshwayo district, and allow patients to receive treatment closer to home.

The Khayelitsha project near Cape Town continues to develop innovative interventions in HIV and DR-TB care, with the aim of influencing local, national, regional and international policies on treatment for these diseases.

"Opportunities are missed each day to prevent HIV infection, psychological trauma, and unwanted pregnancy for victims of sexual violence in the platinum mining belt, because there are too few health facilities with the capacity to provide essential care."

Sarah-Jane Steele
MSF Epidemiologist

Sexual and Gender-based Violence

One-in-five HIV infections and one-in-three cases of depression among women are attributable to rape and intimate-partner violence (IPV). One-in-three women inducing abortion was pregnant as a result of sexual violence.

Much additional suffering could have been prevented if survivors had been able to access a basic package of healthcare services.

MSF continues to support provincial health departments; MSF nurses support the provision of sexual and reproductive health services, including screening for sexual transmitted infections, distributing condoms, and supporting the choice of termination of pregnancy. To increase the numbers of patients accessing services, MSF positions social workers in community-based organisations and local police stations.

In South Africa’s platinum mining belt one in four women between the ages of 18 and 49 have been raped in their lifetime.

MSF continues to advocate increased access to comprehensive services at healthcare facilities for victims of sexual violence nationwide. A report, Untreated Violence: Critical gaps in medical and clinical forensic care for survivors of sexual violence in South Africa, publicised the findings of MSF’s telephone survey of facilities designated across the country to provide care for victims of sexual violence. The survey found that 73% of participating facilities do not provide or do not have the capacity to offer all necessary services.

MSF is calling for the inclusion of ambitious targets for increasing access for survivors of sexual violence to medical and psychosocial services at health facilities. Key interventions include providing post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, psychosocial support including trauma counselling, emergency contraception, other basic medical services (e.g. first-aid), and the option of forensic examination.

Alongside increased access to services there is also a need for health promotion within communities, as half of the women MSF surveyed in 2015 did not know that HIV can be prevented after rape if PEP is received within 72 hours.

As part of MSF's comprehensive sexual violence project in Rustenburg, 'Body Mapping' is used to help survivors of sexual violence identify the internal and external scars and hardships they are living with and working through. 'Body Maps' comprise a life-size outline of the body, which the survivor "maps" with their experiences and emotions. © Wegner / MSF

Find out more about South Africa