Africa, along with poor countries in Asia and Latin America, bears a disproportionate share of the global burden of chronic diseases. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the continent will have the greatest increase in death rates from cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes during the next ten years.
The increased life expectancy, changing lifestyle practises, poverty, urbanisation, and globalisation are all factors contributing to Africa’s chronic disease load.
Here, we take a closer look at the impact of these chronic conditions on medical aid costs in Africa with the continent’s flailing healthcare system.
Many African health-care systems are underfunded and under-resourced, making it difficult to deal with the combined burden of infectious and chronic diseases.
Although health ministries recognise the existence and consequences of a chronic disease burden, few nations have chronic disease strategies or policies in place.
Formal healthcare in Africa has historically evolved in response to acute communicable diseases as well as diseases caused by environmental degradation and pollution.
As a result, most health-care systems emphasise communicable illness training and knowledge while underestimating the necessity of developing human and material capacity for chronic disease care.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, infectious diseases continue to outnumber chronic diseases as the leading cause of death. As a result, it is understandable to believe that chronic diseases do not contribute significantly to disease burden.
The impact on medical aid costs
In fact, total age-specific mortality rates from chronic diseases are greater in adults in Sub-Saharan Africa, frequently several times higher in younger adult age groups, than in the majority of high-income countries.
Even more startling, existing statistics indicate that age-specific mortality rates from chronic diseases are greater in Sub-Saharan Africa than in practically every other region of the world, in both men and women.
Furthermore, there is mounting evidence of negative associations between several chronic conditions and infectious disorders.
This ongoing increase in chronic diseases and disorders throughout the continent, coupled with a public healthcare system that is ill-equipped to manage the rising number of cases, has placed a higher burden on medical aid schemes.
Such schemes consist of a pool of funds generated by their members, from which individuals can draw cover based on their specific needs and the benefits of their plans.
Chronic diseases form part of the PMBs listed by the Medical Aid Schemes Act, which stipulated that medical aids must pay out their clients for treatment of such disorders. Medical aids provide patients with financial access to private healthcare, which is often better equipped to provide adequate treatment.
However, as more patients enrol with chronic diseases forming part of the prescribed PMBs, a greater strain is placed on the financial well-being of medical aid schemes overall and their ability to deliver on the healthcare needs of their clients.
As such, the African continent and the healthcare system overall would benefit from increased awareness and education regarding lifestyle choices that would enable the mitigation or total avoidance of developing chronic diseases in the first place.