The South African Military Health Service is the branch of the South African National Defence Force responsible for medical facilities and the training and deployment of all medical personnel within the force. Though unusual, as most national militaries integrate their medical structures into their existing service branches, the SANDF regards this structure as being the most efficient method of providing care and support to the SANDF's personnel.
It is a significant actor in the effort to control HIV/AIDS within the SANDF.
Following the end of the Border War, in the early 1990s, it implemented several retrenchment measures. It consolidated all quartermaster stores in the Cape Town and Bloemfontein areas, relocated its training center from Potchefstroom to Pretoria, closed several medical supply depots, consolidated computer centers and systems, rationalized procedures for procuring medicine and medical equipment, discontinued survival training, and reduced or closed sickbays and military medical clinics that served other armed services affected by retrenchments.
The SAMHS includes active duty military personnel and civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence. In addition, the service employs roughly 400 medical doctors and private medical specialists are sometimes appointed to supplement the staff of the SAMHS.
The Surgeon General heads the SAMHS and has the rank of Lieutenant-General. The SAMHS operates three Military Hospitals; one in Pretoria, one in Cape Town and one in Bloemfontein. There are also four specialized institutes - the Institute for Aviation Medicine, the Institute for Maritime Medicine, the Military Veterinary Institute and the Military Psychological Institute. Together, these units provide comprehensive medical care for military personnel and their dependents, as well as the police and employees of other security-related government departments, and occasionally to neighboring countries. The SAMHS also provides extensive veterinary services for animals (mainly horses and dogs) used by the security and correctional services. The Institute for Aviation Medicine and the Institute for Maritime Medicine screen pilot candidates for the air force and for civilian aviation certification, as well as divers and submariners for the navy. The military's medical services also include general medical and dental care, and specialized rehabilitation services.
The SAMHS is organized into regional medical commands, corresponding to the army's regional commands, as well as a Medical Logistics Command and a Medical Training Command. The regional commands support military units, military base hospitals, and military unit sickbays in their region. The Medical Logistics Command is responsible for medical logistics only, as each service provides for its own logistics support. In addition, the Medical Training Command supervises the South African Medical Service College, the South African Military Health Service Nursing College, and the South African Military Health Service Training Centre, as well as the military hospitals' training programs. The nursing college, in Pretoria, grants a four-year nursing diploma in association with the University of South Africa. Specialized, in-service training courses for nurses and for nursing assistants are also available.