Diseases Impacting South AfricaAccording to the World Bank, in South Africa, based on the upper-middle-income country poverty line, the poverty rate stood at about 63% in 2022. High poverty rates lead to poor living conditions and a lack of access to quality health care services and treatments. This results in a high burden of disease. Among the most common diseases impacting South Africa are SARS-CoV-2, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Diseases Impacting South Africa

  1. SARS-CoV-2. As of April 20, 2023, South Africa has noted more than 4 million cases of COVID-19 and 102,595 COVID-19 related deaths. The country reported its first confirmed case in March 2020, and since then, SARS-CoV-2 has become one of the main diseases impacting South Africa. Considering the nation’s fragile health care system, in 2020, the World Health Organization made a commitment to strengthening South Africa’s pandemic response by educating more than 1,200 medical workers on infection prevention and control and training more than 1,400 people on case investigation and contact tracing. The WHO also helped to boost vaccination efforts. To date, health workers have administered more than 38 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. Researchers from Wits University and other partners ramped up COVID-19 testing efforts in South Africa by repurposing the Cepheid GeneXpert machine in May 2020, originally designed to test for tuberculosis (TB). This system allowed for testing faster and more extensively.
  2. HIV/AIDS. South Africa has the highest burden of HIV globally as it accounts for 20% of all cases, according to a UNAIDS publication from 2018. Poverty has significant links to HIV and South Africa is a country with many impoverished individuals. According to UNAIDS data from 2021, more than 7.5 million adults and children in South Africa have HIV infections. But, as of 2021, more than 5.5 million individuals in South Africa are on antiretroviral treatment, equating to almost 70% of all infected individuals. PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is a U.S. initiative that aims to fight HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR began efforts to address HIV/AIDS in South Africa in 2004. PEPFAR efforts center around “27 high-burden districts throughout South Africa” and the South African government is partnering with PEPFAR to supply antiretroviral treatment to more than 4 million citizens.
  3. Tuberculosis. Commonly known as TB, this is a disease of poverty, which is why it is prevalent in South Africa. Tuberculosis is transmitted by airborne droplets, which makes it easily transmissible. Poor living conditions in crowded areas with little ventilation contribute to the spread of TB. A lack of education on this topic also increases the risk of a TB infection. In 2018, TB stood as the number one leading cause of death in the nation out of all diseases impacting South Africa. In 2021, for every 100,000 people in South Africa, 513 people had TB infections, according to the World Bank. PEPFAR also works in South Africa to reduce the transmission of TB.

Through the commitment of the government and organizations, the prevalence of diseases impacting South Africa can reduce and the well-being of South Africans can improve.

– Anna Konovalenko
Photo: Flickr