The prospect of social medicine in South Africa

Main Article Content

L F Adonis
D Basu


The term “médecine sociale” (social medicine in English) was first coined in 1848 during the French Revolution by Dr. Jules Guérin. It is a branch of medicine that focuses on the impact of social and economic conditions on health, disease, and the practice of medicine, with the intention of creating a healthier society. It is an interdisciplinary program between medicine and social sciences, expected to equip medicine with the knowledge and skills needed for analyzing the social causes of health and illness, akin to how the alliance between medicine and laboratory sciences provided insights into the biological, chemical, and physical bases of diseases.

Social medicine is also interconnected with social determinants of health. While social determinants of health specifically target social and environmental conditions that affect health, social medicine has a broader scope, encompassing the entire social context of health, including societal structures and cultural factors. In the post-apartheid era, social medicine could play an important role in transforming the healthcare system to ensure equity and inclusivity, leading to improved health outcomes. This would require re-engineering the education of health professionals in South Africa at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, as practiced in many parts of the world.

This will assist South Africa in joining the global movement of social medicine for the promotion of human rights and social justice in medicine, and a better understanding of the impact of social factors on the aetiology and management of medical disorders in the 21st century.

Article Details

How to Cite
The prospect of social medicine in South Africa. (2024). Southern African Journal of Public Health, 7(2), e1872.
Author Biography

L F Adonis, Department of Public Health Medicine, University of Pretoria, South Africa, WHO collaborating centre for SDH and HiAP

Department of Public Health Medicine, UNiversity of Pretoria

WHO Collaborating Centre for SDH and HiAP

How to Cite

The prospect of social medicine in South Africa. (2024). Southern African Journal of Public Health, 7(2), e1872.


Cuffari B. What is Global Social Medicine? 2023. What-is-Global-Social-Medicine.aspx (accessed 20 December 2023).

Steward J. The ‘new era in medicine’: John Ryle and the promotion of social medicine. Medical History 2023;67(3):247-265. doi:10.1017/mdh.2023.21

Ryle JA. Social Medicine: Its Meaning and Its Scope. The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 1944;22(1):58-71.

Rosen G. What is social medicine? A genetic analysis of the concept. Bull Hist Med 1947;21(5):674-733.

Kostičová M. Social medicine 1st edition. 2015. Slovakia: Comenius University in Bratislava. 6. Waitzkin H. One and a half centuries of forgetting and rediscovering: Virchow’s lasting

contributions to social medicine. Soc Med 2006;1(1):5-10.

Waitzkin H, Iriart C, Estrada A, Lamadrid S. Social medicine then and now: lessons from Latin

America. Am J Public Health 2001;91(10):1592-1601. 8. Rosen G. The evolution of social medicine. In: Freeman HE, Levine S, Reeder LG, editors. Handbook of medical sociology. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall; 1972:30-60. 9. Neely AH. The roots of social medicine: a story of relationships. Lancet 2022 Apr


Han DS, Bae SS, Kim DH, Choi YJ. Origins and evolution of social medicine and contemporary social medicine in Korea. J Prev Med Public Health. 2017;50(3):141-157.

Porter D. How did social medicine evolve, and where is it heading? PLoS Med 2006;3(10):e399.

Ventriglio A, Bhat PS, Bhugra D, Srivastava K. Clinical medicine to social medicine. Ind Psychiatry J. 2018. 27(1):6-10. doi: 10.4103/ipj.ipj_68_18

WHO. Constitution of the World Health Organization. accountability/governance/constitution (accessed 20 December 2023).

Kark SL, Steuart GW, editors. A Practice of Social Medicine: A South African team’s experiences in different African communities. 1962. Edinburgh: E&S Livingstone Ltd.

Ryle JA. Social medicine as a discipline. Br J Ind Med 1945;2(2):108.

Forwell GD. Population medicine and individual medicine. Pub Health 1985;1;99(5):261-

Ryle JA. Social medicine and hospital practice. S Afr Med J 1948;22(24):805-809.

Stonington S, Holmes SM, The PLoS Med Editors. Social medicine in the twenty-first

century. PLoS Med. 2006;3(10):e445.

Holmes SM, Greene JA, Stonington SD. Locating global health in social medicine. Glob

Pub Health. 2014; 28;9(5):475-480.

WHO. Social Determinants of Health. 2024.

determinants-of-health#tab=tab_1 (accessed 20 December 2023).

Horton R. Public health or social medicine? It matters. Lancet 2013;382(S1). https://doi.


Neely AH. The roots of social medicine: a story of relationships. Lancet 2022 399(10333):1376-1377.

Gofin J. Classics in social medicine on “A Practice of Social Medicine” by Sidney and Emily Kark. 2006. 1(2). (accessed 20 December 2023).

Marks S. South Africa’s early experiment in social medicine: its pioneers and politics. Am J Pub Health 1997;87(3):452-459.

African National Congress. A National Health Plan for South Africa. 1994. https://www. (accessed 20 December 2023).

Republic of South Africa. National Health Insurance Bill. B11-2019. https://www.parliament. B11_2019_National_Health_Insurance_Bill.pdf (accessed 20 December 2023).

Achoki T, Sartorius B, Watkins D, et al. Health trends, inequalities and opportunities in South Africa’s provinces, 1990–2019: findings from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 Study. J Epidemiol Community Health 2022 May 1;76(5):471-481. jech-2021-217480

Bradshaw D, Nannan NN, Pillay-van Wyk V, Laubscher R, Groenewald P, Dorrington RE. Burden of disease in South Africa: Protracted transitions driven by social pathologies. S Afr Med J 2019 Dec 5;109(11b):69-76.

Norman R, Bradshaw D, Schneider M, et al, The South African Comparative Risk Assessment Collaborating Group. A comparative risk assessment for South Africa in 2000: Towards promoting health and preventing disease. S Afr Med J 2007;97(8 Pt 2):637-641.

Frenk J, Bobadilla JL, Sepuúlveda JA, Cervantes ML. Health transition in middle-income countries: New challenges for health care. Health Policy Plan 1989 Mar 1;4(1):29-39.

Republic of South Africa. The National Health Act 61 of 2003 as amended. 2004. https://www. (accessed 20 December 2023).

Republic of South Africa. National Health Insurance Bill. B-11-2019. Government Gazette No. 42598 of 26 July 2019. Pretoria: Government Printers.

Westerhaus M, Finnegan A, Haidar M, Kleinman A, Mukherjee J, Farmer P. The necessity of social medicine in medical education. Acad Med 2015 May 1;90(5):565-568. doi: 10.1097/ ACM.0000000000000571

Olson DP, Mahoney KM. Social medicine. BMJ 2007;334:070313a. doi:10.1136/sbmj.0703130a 35. Social Medicine: Health for all. Social Medicine Portal.

(accessed 20 December 2023).

Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.