‘Keeping fit will save you money’

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Durban - For every R1 spent on physical exercise, R100 was saved on medical bills to treat non-communicable diseases.

That is according to Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who said such diseases were placing a heavy financial burden on the health system and appealed “for all of us to take ownership of our health and live healthy”.

Dhlomo’s call is underscored by findings that South Africans over the age of 50 - many of whom are obese or live sedentary lives - have the highest hypertension rate in the world.

The MEC was speaking at the inaugural provincial non-communicable diseases (NCD) Indaba held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital on Tuesday.

These diseases include stroke, cancer, chronic lung diseases, heart disease and diabetes.

The indaba was attended by health professionals from around the province with the aim of formulating an integrated plan for the prevention and control of NCDs in KZN.

It was held in collaboration with the SA NCD Alliance.

Quoting World Health Organisation statistics, alliance executive director Vicki Pinkney-Atkinson said that four out of five people in low- to medium-income countries like South Africa had a non-communicable disease.

Jimmy Mthethwa, general manager at the department’s NCD unit, said the global burden of diabetes exceeded that of HIV, malaria and TB put together.

He unveiled the department’s provision of services plan for non-communicable disease, which had been in the pipeline for three years.

Mthethwa said that the implementation of preventative and treatment measures needed as strong a political will as the fight against HIV/Aids and TB.

The plan included prevention and health and wellness campaigns, improved control through health systems strengthening, and the decentralisation of the distribution of chronic medicine. These would be implemented over the next five years.

There was also a proposal for 2.5km and 10km walks to be organised by the health and sports and recreation departments to get people more active. During these walks, there would be mass screening for various non-communicable disease and anti-substance abuse awareness drives, said Mthethwa.

Dhlomo warned aboutlifestyle choices that increased risk.

“We need to discourage the use of tobacco and the consumption of energy-dense; nutrient-poor foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. We need to emphasise that the low levels of physical activity at home, school or work is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Dhlomo said the department would prioritise the promotion of healthy lifestyles as, “one of the critical programmes that need robust advocating throughout the country.”

He said such diseases of lifestyle were not only a burden to the health-care system, but expensive to maintain.

“They are expensive both in terms of the junk food, cigarettes and fizzy drinks and alcohol that we consume. They are also expensive to manage.

“The truth of the matter is that every R1 spent on physical activity will save R100 on a medical bill towards non-communicable diseases,” said Dhlomo.

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