WHILE South Africa grapples with high COVID infections, recording more than 83 000 deaths to date, deaths related to HIV/Aids, diabetes, and tuberculosis still remain high.
According to the Sunday Independent, in 2020, Gauteng, Free State, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Limpopo, altogether, recorded 8 495 tuberculosis (TB)-related deaths and 12 468 HIV/ Aids-related deaths in four of the five provinces, except the Eastern Cape, where precise records of deaths were not available.
Only the Western Cape could submit diabetes-related deaths of 3 699 for the year 2018, citing lack of recent stats due to COVID-19.
Provincial authorities said most TB and HIV/Aids deaths occurred while patients were on the appropriate treatment. But with COVID-19 dominating the national discourse, many health activists believe HIV/Aids, TB, and diabetes are on the back-burner, despite being among the leading causes of deaths in the country.
National Manager for Diabetes SA Margot McCumisky said the disease has been neglected for more than three decades. “We’ve been warning the Department of Health that this neglect will cause problems later, putting pressure on the economy, as well as the burden on the health system, among other things,” she said.
The neglect has seen diabetes become the leading cause of death among women in SA and the second leading cause of death overall. “We are 0.1% behind TB. HIV/Aids has dropped to about the seventh leading cause of death, so when will the same attention be given to diabetes, to make such significant strides?
“With five million or more people living with diabetes, we still don’t have accurate statistics on it, since it’s not a recordable disease. It’s difficult to fight something when you don’t even know what it is, and because people die complications caused by diabetes, we are walking blind,” she said.
Lebo Rapetswa, the founder of HIV/Aids non-governmental organisation Stru Movement, said with 7.7 million people recorded as living with HIV last year, education on the virus needed go hand-in-hand with the COVID-19 response.
“Most people knows what HIV/Aids is but we need to review what education means in the COVID era. We have medication defaulters now because they fear catching COVID and dying. So the question is, what are we educating on, because in the context of COVID-19, we are failing,” she said.
Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Kwara Kekana said the department has not neglected education on HIV/Aids and TB.
“In partnership with the Office of the Premier, we’ve developed the TB hotline… communities are encouraged to seek information about to the disease. TB and HIV patients were decongested to external pick-up points and we used ward-based outreach teams (WBOT) to deliver chronic medication,” she said.
The Sunday Independent reports Kekana as saying deaths in TB and HIV/Aids programmes have not significantly increased due to COVID, and deaths from TB and HIV/Aids were not due to neglect.
Limpopo Health Department spokesperson Neil Shikwambana, said: “Aids-related deaths have decreased by 0.6% from 2.1% to 1.5% during the pandemic. The contributory factor is that, patients on ART were given multi-month prescriptions to avoid frequent visits to health institutions, thus reducing exposure to COVID. TB-related deaths increased by 1.5% from 11.1% to 12.6% during the pandemic. This could be because COVID also affects the lungs, which may overwhelm the already compromised pulmonary system.”
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