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News Room

The Leading Causes Of Death In South Africa

Jason Snyman
2019-12-22
Recent indices and studies have scored South Africans low on life expectancy, but high on alcoholism, depression and deadly diseases. Let's take a look at what's causing our deaths, and what we, as individuals, can do about it.

There seems to be an interesting dichotomy between what we believe to be our leading causes of death and reality, and it has been suggested that a lot of this has could be due to what our media chooses to highlight. HIV/AIDS, for instance, receives significant media coverage in South Africa, and that’s probably why it tops the list of Google searches.

In reality, the leading cause of death in South Africa at the moment is often reported as accidental injury (which includes car accidents), followed by tuberculosis, diabetes, heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases and then HIV/AIDS. 

While plenty of conflicting data can be found, these statistics still serve an important purpose; highlighting the apparent disconnect between what we prioritise, and the other important issues that remain so gravely underrepresented. 

That being said, all deserve due attention and, unsurprisingly, stress and poor diet have also emerged as important factors in the state of our health.  

Let’s take a deeper look at some recent studies, to reveal what’s troubling us, and determine which areas require our focus.  

The Leading Causes Of Death In South Africa

South Africa, according to the recent Global Wellness Index published by investment firm, LetterOne, scores poorly for life expectancy, alcohol use, depression and diabetes.

So, in order to understand why we’re dying in such a hurry, what’s killing us, and what we can do about it, we need to look at the data available. 

In 2018, one of South Africa’s largest insurance companies paid out R3.9 billion in claims; R3.2 billion of that allocated for life cover and R323.5 million to trauma and injury. Let’s break that down.

In terms of life cover paid out, 25% of deaths were linked to cardiovascular disease – ranking highest. Accidental death (39% of which attributed to car accidents) were the second largest cause.

Cancer accounted for 61% of severe illness claims. 80% of all severe illness claims for women, and 45% of all severe illness claims for men, were due to cancer. Cancer was also the primary cause for lump sum disability claims, followed by cardiovascular disease.

Likewise, Discovery Health Medical Scheme paid out over R58.4 billion in healthcare claims, revealing some of the top chronic conditions ailing South Africans to include:

  • Essential hypertension; 
  • Hypothyroidism;  
  • High cholesterol;  
  • Bipolar mood disorder, and;  
  • Ischaemic heart disease.  

All of the above, it has been suggested, could be linked to a poor diet or lifestyle – said to be responsible for more global deaths each year than tobacco. 

The cardiovascular and cancer statistics, in particular, really emphasise the problems affecting the South African population. While HIV/AIDS remains a huge risk, massive strides have been made in treatment over the last few years. 

When assessing the increasing risk of heart disease, cancer, respiratory infections, kidney diseases, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease, however, the associated deaths are only expected to increase. 

This also serves to further highlight the immense importance of having the right medical plans and insurance policies in place for the future. Gap cover, in particular, has proven to be one of the most vital assets in the long, hard fight against many prevalent types of cancer.

Burnout, And Stress As A Factor In Our Overall Health

It has been said that there are two types of people in South Africa; those who can handle massive amounts of stress, and those who need bail money. 

Earlier this year, market research firm, Ipsos, published its latest ‘What Worries The World’ study, in which 28 countries were questioned over their biggest concerns and fears.

Over 20 000 interviews were conducted with adults, aged 18 to 64, and the data was then weighted to match the profile of the population. Results showed that most people, all across the world, are somewhat pessimistic about the future of the world and their respective countries. 

China, Saudi Arabia, India, Malaysia, Sweden and Hungary proved the most optimistic, while South Africa, France, Spain, Turkey and Belgium came in at the other end of the spectrum, revealing most citizens to be a little apprehensive. According to the study, only 23% of South African and French citizens believe that their country isn’t going to collapse in on itself in a massive ball of fire.

So, what’s causing this sense of uneasiness in us?

Globally, most people worry about financial / political corruption, unemployment, poverty / social inequality, crime / violence and healthcare, in that order. 

South Africa follows these international trends quite closely, with the study revealing our greatest source of concern to be financial and political corruption, followed by the alarmingly high rate of crime and violence, the high rate of unemployment, poverty / social inequality and the lack of decent education. 

While unemployment ranks high among our causes of stress, the opposite may also offer its own form of strain. It has become such a huge problem that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has even recognised ‘burnout’ as an official medical diagnosis, and can be defined as a syndrome resulting from chronic, ineffectively managed workplace-related stress, specifically. 

Burnout can be characterised by the following:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Recent studies have shown that South Africans are by no means immune to this, and that as much as 22% of our workforce feels overworked. With job security under constant threat in an evolving job-market and struggling economy, many people have no choice but to grin and bear it. 

This burnout, however, causes much of the aforementioned depression and anxiety, results in employees taking their problems home with them, and has led to a significant increase in alcohol and narcotic abuse as a means to cope with work-related demands.

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