Health in South Africa

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Health in South Africa

Life expectancy[edit]

The 2015 CIA estimated average life expectancy in South Africa was 62.34 years.[1] The life expectancy for males is 60.83 years and for females 63.87 years.[1]


Estimated HIV infection in Africa in 2007 shows high rates of infection in Southern Africa.

HIV and AIDS in South Africa are major health concerns, and around 5.3 million people are thought to be living with the virus in South Africa.[2] HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the retrovirus that causes the disease known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). South Africa has more people with HIV/AIDS than any other country.[3]

The South African National HIV Survey estimated that 10.8% of all South Africans over 2 years old were living with HIV in 2005. There is an average of almost 1,000 deaths of AIDS a day in South Africa.[4]

Other infectious diseases[edit]

Other infectious diseases prevalent in South Africa include bacterial diarrhea, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A. These infectious diseases are generally caused when the food or water consumed by an individual has been exposed to fecal material.[5] South Africa is an under developed nation and because of this the sanitation facility access in urban areas is 16% unimproved while in rural areas the sanitation facility access is 35% unimproved.[6]


15% of South African infants are born with a low birth weight.[7] 5% of South African children are so underweight they are considered to be wasted.[7] Since the 1990s South Africa's malnutrition problem has remained fairly stable.[7] But as malnutrition in terms of hunger is getting better, the number of obesity is rising and this is becoming a problem.

The prevalence of malnutrition in South Africa varies across different geographical areas and socio-economic groups.[7] Many infants in Africa suffer from malnutrition because their mothers do not breastfeed them. The reason mothers in South Africa avoid breastfeeding is to prevent passing on AIDS to their children.[8] The 2010 South Africa Department of Health Study found that 30.2% of pregnant women in South Africa have AIDS.[9] Instead, mothers give milk substitutes to their children and do so in unclean environments. Sometimes they go directly to giving food which are not adapted to infants. These things cause many cases of malnutrition in children under five years of age.


South Africa has less than 5% of the population facing undernourishment. In 2015 South Africa achieved one of the targets of the millennium development goal 1 which was to halve the number of people facing undernourishment between 1990 and 2015.


South Africa is known as a double burden country meaning that there are undernourished people and obese people. 20% of men and 90% of women were classified as morbidly obese in 2012.[10]

Mental health[edit]

In a study conducted by the Mental Health and Poverty research Program, it was found that approximately 16.5% of the adult population in South Africa suffers from mental illness, with 1% suffering from a severe life debilitating mental disease.[11][12] 30% of South Africans are likely to suffer a mental illness in their lifetimes, depression being the most common ailment.[13] However, these statistics may be an underestimation. Among the native population, many still hold to the traditional belief that mental illness results from a demonic possession. As a result, many individuals for fear of social ostracism, keep their mental illness secret instead of seeking the much needed medical attention.[12] This means that there is still a significant population suffering from mental illness that is currently unrepresented in mental health statistics.

Bloomberg has ranked South Africa as the second "most stressed out" country in the world, due in large part to South Africans' work ethic. 53% of the South African work force does not take annual leave.[13]

Another large contributor to the high frequency of mental disorders is violence. Of the adult population ages 16 to 64, it was found that 23% were exposed to a traumatic event of violence in the past year. These traumatic events include acts such as fighting a war, being tortured, or participating in violence. Among this population, it was determined that mental illness including symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was 8.5 times more prevalent than among the general population.[14]

Another factor contributing to mental illness in South Africa is substance abuse. Many provinces are used as drug trafficking routes, and as the South African government lacks the necessary resources to control this problem, many of these illicit drugs find their way into local populations as a drug.[12] In addition, the availability of the wild growing Cannabis plant allows for its rampant abuse among all age categories. It was found that 52% of street children smoke the Cannabis plant and 22% on a daily basis.[15] Educational campaigns are limited, and as a result, many do not realise the impinging health effects that will result from substance abuse.

Diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, and HIV provide a significant contribution to the prevalence of mental illness. Some of these diseases such as cerebral malaria can bear a direct physiological effect on the mental functionality of the patient. However, even more poignant is the ability of disease to strike a radiating blow to the patient's emotional psyche. For instance, the prevalence of mental illness among those suffering from HIV is 43.7% compared to the 16.5% observed among the general population.[16]

Maternal and child healthcare[edit]

The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for South Africa is 410. This is compared with 236.8 in 2008 and 120.7 in 1990. The under 5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births is 65 and the neonatal mortality as a percentage of under 5's mortality is 30. In South Africa the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is unavailable and the lifetime risk of death for pregnant women 1 in 100.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "CIA - The World Factbook Life Expectancy". Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  2. ^ UNAIDS South Africa Archived October 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ radiodiaries entry on "Just Another Day at the Biggest Hospital in the World"
  4. ^ "HIV and AIDS statistics for South Africa". Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "CIA - The World Factbook." Central Intelligence Agency, 4 Apr. 2007 "". 
  6. ^ "CIA - The World Factbook." Central Intelligence Agency, 4 Apr. 2007 "". 
  7. ^ a b c d "Nutrition at a Glance: South Africa" (PDF). The World Bank. 
  8. ^ Bobat, Raziya; Moodley, Dhayendree; Coutsoudis, Anna; Coovadia, Hoosen (11 November 1997). "Breastfeeding by HIV-1-infected women and outcome in their infants: a cohort study from Durban, South Africa". AIDS. 11 (13): 1627–1633. doi:10.1097/00002030-199713000-00012. 
  9. ^ "South Africa HIV & AIDS Statistics". Avert: International HIV & AIDS Charity. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  10. ^ Britnell, Mark (2015). In Search of the Perfect Health System. London: Palgrave. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-137-49661-4. 
  11. ^ Inge, P., Arvin, B., Victoria, C., Sithembile, M., Crick, L., Sharon, K., & ... the Mental Health and Poverty Research Programme, C. (2009). Planning for district mental health services in South Africa: a situational analysis of a rural district site. Health Policy & Planning, 24(2), 140. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. p. 141
  12. ^ a b c Okasha, A. (2002). Mental health in Africa: the role of the WPA. World Psychiatry 1(1), 32–35. Web. Retrieved from PubMed.
  13. ^ a b Green, Amy (1 July 2015). "SA is stressed out and suicidal". Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  14. ^ Hirschowitz, R., & Orkin, M. (1997). Trauma and mental health in South Africa. Social Indicators Research, 41(1–3), 169. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. p. 169
  15. ^ Kilonzo, G. P., & Simmons, N. N. (1998). Development of Mental Health Services in Tanzania: A Reappraisal for the Future. Social Science & Medicine, 47(4), 419. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. p. 422
  16. ^ Freeman, M., Nkomo, N., Kafaar, Z., & Kelly, K., 2008. Mental disorder in people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. South African Journal of Psychology, 38, pp.489–500.
  17. ^ "The State Of The World's Midwifery". United Nations Population Fund. Retrieved August 2011.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)