Better funding and an environment that makes it easier for people to make healthy choices are key for South Africa to overcome its hypertension and diabetes burdens.  A recent study by the University of Stellenbosch points to the detrimental impact inequality has on the prevention, diagnosis, and management of hypertension and diabetes. 

Lynn Hendricks, a research psychologist at Stellenbosch University’s Global Health Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences says policies and programs must account for the needs of the public and the historical and socio-economic climate.

Hendricks recently co-authored a study focused on population-level interventions aimed at curbing hypertension and diabetes in South Africa. One in three South Africans have high blood pressure. A study released last year estimated the direct healthcare costs associated to be R10.1 billion.

“The high cost of healthy food, limited availability of safe indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, and inadequate healthcare infrastructure in underserved areas further exacerbate the problem,” Hendricks told Health-e News.

Inequality and policy impact on hypertension

Researchers spoke to decision-makers who plan and develop policies, programmes or supportive environments to prevent and manage hypertension and diabetes.

Hendricks says some decision-makers they interviewed believe it is important for policies to be responsive to the needs of communities.

“Striking a balance between the economic and nutritional needs of people who are at higher risk of hypertension and diabetes is essential to planning for interventions and creating supportive environments,” explains Hendricks.

Hendricks says that socio-economic disparities in South Africa contribute to the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes. This is because low-income individuals often face limited access to nutritious food, safe living conditions, and healthcare services.

“Some of the current challenges fuelling hypertension and diabetes in South Africa are the high prevalence of risk factors for these conditions such as unhealthy diets(high in salt, sugar, and processed foods), sedentary lifestyles, tobacco use, and harmful alcohol consumption,” says Hendricks.

Complex health condition

She says hypertension and diabetes are complex health conditions and multiple factors influence the diseases. Most are social determinants of health such as income, education, employment, housing, affordability of healthy food, and accessible and safe green recreation spaces.

“Focusing on the underlying socio-economic, environmental, behavioural, and cultural conditions is essential for addressing hypertension and diabetes and can have a lasting impact on populations. Preventing risk factors and promoting health must get priority. But this requires holistic policies and fostering multi-sectoral collaborations,” she says

Sandhya Singh, Director of the Department of Health’s Non-Communicable Disease cluster, says prevention is important, but the government has a responsibility to patients.

“The department has a responsibility to ensure those at risk are identified early and linked to care to control their condition and prevent costly medical and other complications,” says Singh. – Health-e News.