Most of us go about our daily lives in the belief that we can live as we please as long as our lifestyle does not hurt anyone else.
However, this attitude is leading to preventable lifestyle diseases which are becoming a headache for everyone.
President Jacob Zuma used the state of the nation address to issue a prescription: “We also wish to encourage South Africans to live healthier lives to reduce the impact of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), South Africa is rated three times higher than other developing countries when it comes to the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
NCDs – conditions that cannot be contracted from another person or object contaminated by germs – are responsible for more deaths and illness worldwide than any other cause.
They can usually be prevented or curbed by following a healthy lifestyle. NCDs include cardiovascular disease, most cancers, strokes, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.
Our poor rating in NCDs is putting stress on our health system and costing the country dearly in terms of productivity, human life and the economic resource of talent.
According to the WHO, the social burdens associated with the so called “four diseases” (cardiovascular, disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases) include prolonged disability, diminished resources within families and reduced productivity.
A recent WHO study found that if intervention efforts remain static, the cumulative economic losses to low and middle income countries (LMICs) from the four diseases are about $500bn (R4 trillion) a year.
Per person, the annual loss amounts to an average of R200 in low-income countries, R400 in low- to middle-income countries and R1100 in middle- to upper-income countries.
WHO studies also indicate that reducing the mortality rate for is ischaemic heart disease and strokes by 10% would save LMICs an estimated R200bn a year – three times more than the money necessary to achieve these benefits.
The government in South Africa has already started to place greater emphasis on the prevention of all diseases – not just NCDs.
The Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, who recently adopted a healthier lifestyle, said: “As a country we just have to go back to the basics of primary healthcare. We have to prevent diseases even before they occur.”
The biggest return on preventative investment will be hundreds of thousands of avoided premature deaths.
The Department of Health is therefore changing our health service delivery from the curative model to one that promotes cost-effective primary healthcare.
Well-functioning primary care will improve immunisation and early detection of diseases.
The proposed National Health Insurance system will also increase access to better screening for and treatment of all diseases.
In a new drive to prevent child mortality, the government, in collaboration with the private sector, is now running a four-month Catch-Up programme which aims to provide children under the age of five with an additional dose of PCV13 to protect them and communities against pneumococcal diseases.
We continue to work hard to promote immunisation of children; during the last financial year, full immunisation coverage of 89, 4% was achieved for children under the age of one.
The recently launched National Strategic Plan (NSP) to fight HIV, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis (TB) also aims to reduce new HIV infections by at least 50%.
President Zuma proudly announced on World Aids Day 2011: “A landmark achievement for our country is the 50% reduction in the transmission of HIV from mothers to children between 2008 and 2010. The proportion of children whose mothers are HIV positive who were infected decreased from 8% in 2008 to 3.5% in 2010.”
The NSP also aims to reduce the number of new TB infections as well as deaths from TB by 50%. The government’s focus remains on the early detection and diagnosis of TB by implementing plans of intensive case finding by visiting homes of known TB patients.
From April 2010 to June last year, 8million people were screened for TB, with a million being referred for further diagnosis and more than 300000 placed on preventive treatment.
Although the government has implemented various legislative measures and regulations to promote the prevention of NCDs, the screws will be further tightened this year.
During the recent human development ministerial cluster briefing, Health Minister Motsoaledi said: “Already, work is being done in the areas of regulating salt and trans-fats in food. These two are well known as key causes of many of these diseases.
“This year we are going to tighten the space in the fight against tobacco products and alcohol consumption. We have to deal with the scourge of alcohol advertising where this is projected as a product bringing success.”
The government is clearly doing its bit to ensure “a long and healthier life for all South Africans”, but it is up to us as individuals to take better care of ourselves and, in the process, better care of our country.
Jimmy Manyi is CEO of Government Communication and Information System