Healing waters: Balneological classification of thermal springs in South Africa
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The scientific study of the medicinal effects of thermal waters is known as balneology, or balneotherapy when applied in a medical context. In this literature-based article, the need for an up-to-date balneological classification of thermal spring waters in South Africa is highlighted. While balneotherapy is still not fully recognized at a global level, it has, over the past few centuries, evolved into a medical speciality in some countries. The effects of balneotherapy on the human body can be categorised into three broad areas, namely chemical effects, thermal effects and mechanical effects. Today there are about 30 thermal spring resorts spread around South Africa, but there is no longer any direct medicinal/balneological use of thermal spring waters in the country. Kent (1952) classified most of the best known thermal springs in South Africa into the following balneological water types: Indifferent waters, chalybeatic waters, alkaline waters, sulphate waters, salt waters, triple waters, silicious waters, lithium waters and sulphur waters. While detailed chemical analyses of most thermal springs in South Africa have taken place in recent years, these do not include balneological analysis. Many medical specialists, such as rheumatologists and dermatologists, now acknowledge the medical significance of balneotherapy. An updated balneological classification of South Africa's thermal springs, and indeed those of the many other African countries that have thermal water resources, could go a long way towards enabling these countries to establish themselves as part of the growing international health tourism industry.