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SA’s biggest health risks

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Know the 5 biggest health risks in SA

Risk #1: HIV/AIDS

South Africa has the most serious HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world, with over six million people living with the condition. Among the key populations most affected by HIV/AIDS are black males between the ages of 25 and 49 years.


HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a retrovirus that causes AIDS. You can become infected with HIV by:

Having unprotected sex with an infected person.

Sharing contaminated needles and instruments.

Bloods transfusions with infected blood.

You are especially at risk if you are uncircumcised, have unprotected sex with men, use intravenous drugs, have multiple sexual partners, or have another sexually transmitted disease.


There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, the condition can be managed with antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is a combination of medicines used to control the virus. It can prolong a healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. ART must be taken every day, exactly as prescribed for the rest of your life. It is also important to maintain a strong immune system by eating well, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking, drug abuse and excessive alcohol.

Risk #2: Tuberculosis

South Africa has the third highest TB burden in the world.

TB is not spread evenly. It affects more males than females, specifically the poor, and the young and non-white population groups.


TB is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This bacterium manifests and destroys parts of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe, but can also spread to and attack other parts of the body such as the bones, joints and nervous system.

TB is spread through the air. When a person with TB of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, or talks, droplets of the TB bacteria are released into the air. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.


If you are diagnosed with TB, make sure you get the correct medical treatment and that you complete the full course of prescribed drugs. Successful treatment takes at least six months, and medication must be taken exactly as prescribed. Incomplete treatment or not following a consistent treatment regimen may cause you to develop drug resistant strains of TB, which may be extremely difficult to cure and even fatal.

Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, supplementing vitamins, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and opening your windows to let in fresh air and sunlight is also important to managing and treating TB.

Risk #3: Heart disease

Heart disease is the fourth highest cause of death in South Africa.

One in three men will develop a heart condition before the age of 60.

Ischaemic heart diseases – conditions that reduce blood supply to the heart – are the leading cause of death among white men.


The following lifestyle factors can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, which may cause heart disease:

An unhealthy diet – a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, and salt.

Excessive drinking.

A lack of exercise.


Treat and prevent heart disease by:

Following a healthy, balanced diet.

Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.

Quitting smoking.

Drinking in moderation.

Managing existing health conditions.

If these lifestyle modifications aren’t enough, you may need medication, surgery or cardiac rehabilitation.

Risk #4: Diabetes

Diabetes is quickly becoming an epidemic, affecting nearly two million people in South Africa, with the highest incidence among the Indian population, followed by the coloured community.

Left unmanaged, diabetes can lead to problems such as erectile dysfunction and impotence.


Diabetes develops when the body does not make enough insulin – a hormone made in the pancreas, which helps cells in the body absorb and use glucose for energy. It can also develop when the body is not able to use insulin effectively. The exact cause is unknown, but may be due to genetics or lifestyle factors, such as an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and stress.


Control blood glucose levels, manage symptoms, and prevent diabetes complications by:

Eating well: include a variety of healthy foods in your diet, watch your portion sizes, and eat at set times.

Keeping active: exercise helps control blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy weight, and enhance overall health and wellness.

Taking your meds: always take your medications and/or insulin as prescribed and on time.

Risk #5: Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting men in South Africa.

One in six men will get prostate cancer at some point in his lifetime.

It affects white men more commonly than any other race. However, black men are at a greater risk of developing the disease, and often a more aggressive form of it.


There is no single cause of prostate cancer, but there are a number of risk factors that can increase your risk for developing this condition. These include:

Being over the age of 50 – the older you are, the higher your risk.

A history of prostate cancer in your family.

Poor eating habits – a high intake of saturated fat and red meat.

Not getting enough exercise.

Excessive alcohol.


Depending on the stage and grade of the cancer, your age and other health factors, your doctor may recommend:

Surgery: whole or partial removal of the prostate.

Radiotherapy: high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells.

Hormone therapy: stops the production of testosterone, which prevents the growth of cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: drugs that can kill cancer cells.

The more precise your diagnosis, the more effective your treatment will be. Following a healthy lifestyle and going for regular check-ups during your treatment will also help to assist your recovery.


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