Cape Town – The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) says unsafe sex and heightened alcohol consumption are the top risk factors for disease and death in South Africa.
SAMRC’s Burden of Disease Research Unit latest report on South Africa’s leading causes of disease and death report, which was recently published, found that South Africa has high rates of mortality and morbidity which are underpinned by the occurrence of risk factors related to lifestyle, social behaviours and the environment.
SAMRC’s unit director, Professor Debbie Bradshaw says although unsafe sex and interpersonal violence remain high on South Africa’s risk profile, key results from the study suggest that non-communicable diseases combined are at an all-time high and are highly likely to overtake unsafe sex and interpersonal violence.
“Most of our work has looked at what are the medical causes of disease and death, and we wanted to take a step further to understand what are the risk factors that can be changed that are driving the disease and premature mortality in the country.
“Things like interpersonal violence, unsafe sex and high blood pressure those risks factors causes a lot of death and which we do consider that it can be prevented,” she said.
Bradshaw said one of the limitations in the study they have conducted is historical and depicts the trends on these risk factors and they saw that by 2012 unsafe was by far the most important risk factor that needs to be addressed to reduce the burden of disease.
“Unsafe sex dominates South Africa’s risk factor profile and accounts for the largest proportion (27%) of the 20.6 million disability adjusted life years were lost in 2012,”
“We do believe that by 2020 and after Covid that unsafe sex has probably become less dominant but it's still a leading risk factor but the data beyond our studies suggests that it is leading risk factor of similar of magnitude,” she said.
She also added that the Covid-19 period has probably accelerated the cardiovascular risk factors of weight, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Bradshaw said that there has been a massive increase in the use of condoms but infections continue to spread throughout the country.
“Condom use is very important.
“If we get rid of unsafe sex, we will see the number of people being infected with HIV and STIs being reduced.
“The extent of the burden was really profound and its declining but we are still having it as risk factor and there is a room for reminding people to know their status, they should protect especially if they have multiple partners,” she said.
She further stated that in this study they also noted a shift where females are involved in heavy drinking and males are engaging in binge drinking during the weekends.
“These patterns are alarming because alcohol abuse can lead to unsafe sex, which may lead to the transmission of HIV and STIs,” she said.