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Arthritis - a debilitating disease that severely impacts a person's quality of life and a contributor to loss pf productivity in the workplace.

As the world observes World Arthritis Day today, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) joins thousands around the world in acknowledging the disease's impact and effects.

World Arthritis Day was established in 1996 by Arthritis and Rheumatism International (ARI), to raise awareness of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) amongst the medical community, people with RMDs, and the public. 

It is aimed at influencing public policy by making decision-makers aware of the burden of RMDs and the steps which can be taken to ease it. World Arthritis Day is also aimed at ensuring all people with RMDs and their caregivers are aware of the vast support network available to them. 

In terms of prevalence, we have few data on the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis in South Africa whilst a 2014 study showed osteoarthritis affected a staggering 29.5% of the population, of which up to 82.7% are among adults aged over 65 years. 

Apart from the severe loss of quality of life among people who suffer from arthritis, there is also a cost to the country’s economy. Studies suggest functional impairment can be a significant predictor for the evaluation of direct and productivity costs.  

Studies also suggest that 17% of people who suffer from Osteoarthritis (OA), which manifests as severe pains in the back, knees, and fingers, found their pain management regimens to be mostly ineffective. Up to 47% of sufferers also reported the most painful impact arthritis has is on their capacity to perform daily activities; this results in poor quality of life, along with declining productivity. 

Early diagnosis 
In most cases, early diagnosis and treatment of treatable arthritis can result in a good outlook for patients, especially for children with juvenile arthritis. Any symptoms detected early should be noted with a doctor, and treatment can begin immediately. 

However, due to the lack of access to joint preserving therapies in South Africa, diagnosis and treatment referrals for those suffering from Rheumatoid arthritis can take up to a year, especially for patients in the public sector. This lack of early diagnosis and treatment can lead to disability to the degeneration of joints, as they become inflamed, stiff, and swollen. Access to joint replacement for end stage joint disease is also problematic.

(Adapted from a press release)