(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s largest private hospital network is expanding its primary and home-care options as it seeks to further widen its patient base.

As many as 8 million South Africans want access to private health care, but are uninsured. Netcare Ltd. wants to grow into this market as well as among those that are trading down on their health insurance, Chief Executive Officer Richard Friedland said. Netcare Monday reported a 0.8% drop in paid patient days in the six months through March.

Together with wellness programs, these “are real and meaningful areas for growth,” Friedland said in an interview. “There’s a very strong place for primary care in society and ultimately for secondary and tertiary when it’s required.”

Moribund economic growth, rising costs and increased pressure on disposable incomes have left millions of residents in Africa’s most-developed economy struggling to afford full health insurance packages. Netcare and rivals are seeking to keep these people in their networks, as well as bring in the uninsured.

Discovery Ltd., the administrator of the country’s largest medical-insurance provider, Dis-Chem Pharmacies Ltd. and digital bank Tyme offer health insurance as low as 350 rand ($19.2) a month, giving customers access to a network of doctors, emergency procedures and treatment for chronic conditions including HIV. 

South Africa’s new and controversial national health-insurance law also has a strong focus on primary care. 

While the National Health Insurance Act is likely to be challenged partly because it bans the private sector from offering cover for treatment available under NHI, private hospitals still expect the number of people using their facilities to increase even if at lower margins.

“We want to be able to engage with patients over their lifetime through their wellness and through their episodes of care in a facility,” Friedland said. “Preventative care and allowing medical insurers to provide benefits for that is absolutely essential.”

The stock advanced for a fourth day on Monday, adding 1% at the close in Johannesburg and paring its decline so far this year to 17%. 

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