President Cyril Ramaphosa eloquently articulates in his letter to the nation on Monday 6 July the importance of keeping the elderly and those with comorbidities safe. He writes:

For those fortunate enough to have an elderly parent or grandparent still alive, not being able to spend time with them has been one of the most difficult parts of the lockdown.

Because of social distancing regulations, most of these activities have been curtailed, potentially leaving them feeling socially isolated and lonely. And leaving their loved ones anxious for their wellbeing. The reality however is that in keeping our distance from our elderly parents and grandparents at this time we could be saving their lives.

Coronavirus can infect anyone, but older people are among those at highest risk of getting severely ill and possibly dying. Sadly, there have been several Coronavirus outbreaks at old-age homes and care centres, resulting in a number of deaths.

In addition, data released by the Department of Health indicates that people with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, renal disease, asthma and chronic respiratory disease are more vulnerable to developing severe complications and dying from Coronavirus.

According to new research published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, a third of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 had at least one comorbidity.

More than 4.5 million South Africans have diabetes, a figure that has doubled since 2017. In the Western Cape alone, diabetes is a co-morbidity in over half of all COVID-19 deaths.

In the Western Cape, testing is being offered to people with comorbidities such as diabetes, whether they show coronavirus symptoms or not. This smart approach to screening and testing is part of our effort to limit infections among those most vulnerable.

People with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension should be extra cautious. They should observe social distancing, stay home if possible and stay away from crowded places. Like everyone else, they should practice good hygiene and continue to take their medication.

One of the lessons from this pandemic is that we need a holistic approach to health. Anecdotal evidence suggests many of our people have used the lockdown period to make positive lifestyle changes like doing more exercise or quitting smoking. Reducing the burden of lifestyle-related diseases on our health system is ultimately in the best interests of our health, our economy and our personal finances.

While the COVID-19 fatality rate is low in South Africa compared to the rest of the world, the rising number of infections is a caution against complacency.

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