What are the major health issues in South Africa?

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    There are many challenges facing the health sector in the country. The impact of HIV, communicable and non-communicable diseases and risk factors are just some of the issues contributing to some of the common top 10 diseases in South Africa. Discover more about what are the major health issues in South Africa as Bloom discusses these in more detail.

    Top diseases and health issues in South Africa

    There are a number of diseases that are ranked as having the highest impact with regard to deaths or infections in the country. Discover what are the major health issues in South Africa.

    1. Tuberculosis

    Commonly known as TB, is the number one health issue in South Africa and the leading cause of death in the country. It’s a highly infectious bacterial disease that affects your lungs but it can spread to other parts of your body too, like the brain or spine, if left untreated. Statistics South Africa estimate that approximately 300,000 people were infected with TB, which caused the death of more than 63,000 in 2018. The disease is particularly prevalent in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, which has the highest rate of TB in the country: 700+ per 100,000 people. HIV AIDS is a significant driver of active TB as the compromised immune system contributes to latent TB infection. There are two types of tuberculosis, these are:

    • Latent tuberculosis. This is where a patient has TB bacteria in their body but their immune system prevents this was spreading. People with latent TB are not sick and don’t present any symptoms. However, the infection could become active if one’s immune system was weakened.
    • Active tuberculosis. The TB bacteria multiplies and causes one to get sick.

    Sighs and symptoms of TB include:

    • A persistent cough that lasts for more than four weeks
    • Chest pain
    • Constant fatigue
    • Coughing up blood
    • Night sweats
    • Fever
    • Weightloss

    2. Diabetes

    Diabetes-related complications are the second most common form of death in South Africa. It’s estimated that about 4.5 million South Africans suffer from diabetes and South Africa is noted as having the highest number of adult diabetics on the African continent. Diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar. This means your body does not produce enough insulin, the hormone needed to regulate the body’s sugar levels. Insulin transfers sugars to cells in your body where it is used for energy. Without insulin, your blood sugar will continue to rise and, if left untreated, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to your organs like the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and/or blood vessels.

    There are two main types of diabetes:

    • Type 1 (insulin-dependent), which usually affects children
    • Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent diabetes), which tends to develop gradually in adults and is much more common

    Some of the signs and symptoms associated with diabetes include:

    • Constant feeling of thirst
    • Increased urination
    • Blurry or poor vision
    • Slow-healing sores or injuries
    • Constant fatigue
    • Frequent infections
    • Weightloss

    Gold, Silver and Bronze Momentum Health4Me health insurance members can receive unlimited cover for chronic medication for diabetes, in accordance with chronic benefits of Momentum’s CareCross Network of prescribed chronic medication formulary. The Health4Me benefit also covers medication for 26 chronic conditions.

    3. Cardiovascular Disease

    Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is the third leading cause of death in South Africa. The South African Heart & Stroke Foundation estimates that approximately 200 people die from heart disease or strokes in our country every day. CVD is an umbrella term used to describe a disease of the heart or blood vessels. Some of the main types of CVD include:

    • Stroke
    • Coronary heart disease
    • Aortic disease
    • Peripheral arterial disease
    • Cardiomyopathy
    • Angina
    • Congenital heart disease
    • Arrhythmia

    For more information, take a look at Heart health awareness: how to prevent cardiovascular disease.

    4. Cerebrovascular Disease

    Cerebrovascular disease are strokes and aneurysms. It’s a leading cause of death in South Africa and is related to cardiovascular disease. The term is used to include all diseases or disorders where the brain is temporarily or permanently affected by ischemia, where the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted, thereby preventing the brain from getting oxygen. This can have serious health implications. A stroke is a medical emergency and prompt treatment is critical. Some of the signs and symptoms to look out for include:

    • Paralysis. People experiencing a stroke could find that one side of their body becomes unresponsive, numb or paralysed. This typically affects the face, arm or leg.
    • Communication. Words become slurred and speech is incoherent.
    • Vision. One may experience blurred vision in one or both eyes. Sometimes people can see double.
    • Balance. People who are at risk for a stroke may suffer from poor coordination where they stumble or lose their balance.
    • Headaches. Severe headaches are experienced, along with vomiting and dizziness.

    5. HIV AIDS

    An estimated 7.7 million, or 14% of the population, are living with HIV in South Africa which is one of the leading health issues in the country. The most prevalent is in the ages of 15-24 years, and women make up 63% of new infections. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, attacks cells that assist the body’s ability to fight infection. This makes a person susceptible to infection and disease. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The virus is spread by coming into contact with body fluids, which is most commonly during unprotected sex.

    There is, fortunately, effective treatment for those who are HIV positive. Antiretroviral therapy can reduce the viral load, which will reduce the risk of infections. Those who are HIV positive need to take medication and follow an ARV treatment plan in order to live a healthy lifestyle and prevent transmission to HIV-negative partners.

    Momentum Health4Me Gold offers a comprehensive HIV Benefit. The plan offers antiretroviral medication in accordance with the Momentum CareCross Network prescribed HIV medication formulary. However, a member will first need to register for the HIV benefit and, once approved, the HIV medication will be sent to a MediPost Pharmacy of your choice. There is a three-month waiting period for this health insurance benefit.

    6. Hypertensive Disease

    South Africa has a high rate of hypertensive disease. According to a study by Global Epidemiology, about 45% of men and 48% of women older than 15 years have hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertensive disease is a chronic condition that develops over a number of years. It’s linked to cardiovascular diseases, like coronary artery disease, heart failure and arrhythmia. High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart, making it difficult to pump blood. The walls of the blood vessels thicken, which increases your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Other related complications that can arise because of high blood include:

    • Eye problems
    • Atherosclerosis
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Dementia

    7. Influenza and pneumonia

    There is usually some confusion between influenza and pneumonia. Influenza is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. Common signs and symptoms include:

    • Headache
    • Fever
    • Aching body
    • Chills and/or sweats
    • Dry cough
    • Runny nose
    • Sore throat

    The World Health Organisation estimate that pneumonia deaths were more than 39,000 in South Africa in 2020. Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs. It is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. Pneumonia can occur in one or both lungs. The air sacs fill with fluid that causes a cough with phlegm. The patient suffers from a fever and has difficulty breathing. Pneumonia is particularly life-threatening to infants and those with a compromised or weakened immune system. Common signs and symptoms include:

    • Cough with phlegm
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

    What are the major health issues in South Africa? Health insurance for all

    Bloom encourages a healthy lifestyle, and this is especially relevant for those who are living with HIV or who have risk factors for some of the most common diseases or conditions in South Africa. Make the right choices to keep yourself healthy by getting regular screening tests and ensuring you have health insurance coverage. You can get comprehensive and affordable health insurance with Health4Me. Contact one of our trained brokers to discuss the medical insurance plans that are suitable for your condition.

    Medical Content Disclaimer

    You understand and acknowledge that all users of the Bloom website are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All content provided on the website, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Neither is it intended to be a substitute for an independent professional medical opinion, judgement, diagnosis or treatment.

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