South Africa maintains a low mortality rate for Covid-19 infections, despite having the highest rate of HIV and TB infection in the world, coupled with a prevalence of lifestyle diseases.

The high prevalence of lifestyle diseases, coupled with the fact that South Africa has the highest number of HIV and TB infections in the world, should have spelled disaster as the number Covid-19 infections steadily increasing day by day.

However, South Africa’s mortality rate from Covid-19 infection is a low 1.9%, compared to some European countries where mortality rates as high as 14% have been reported.

During his technical briefing on 28 April, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize revealed that more than a third of South Africans suffer from hypertension, more than 4.5 million people have diabetes and more than 70 % of women and 40% of men are overweight or obese.

“Studies have continuously shown that there is a strong association of serious illness or death from Covid-19 infection with pre-existing morbidities, like hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” said Mkhize. He attributes South Africa’s low mortality rate to the fact that most of the people who have contracted the virus so far are young and healthy, and have, therefore, recovered well.

He pointed out, however, that there are patients with underlying conditions who survived Covid-19 despite becoming very ill and expressed his gratitude to the medical staff “who are working hard to ensure that we keep the mortality rate as low as it is at the moment.”

To date 185 497 tests have been conducted, with 25 000 of these done in the public sector in the past week alone.

Briefly addressing concerns expressed by healthcare workers regarding personal protective equipment, Mkhize stressed the importance of adequate training as the biggest ammunition in the war against Covid-19. He described the acquisition of protective gear for health staff as a moving target, saying: “Sometimes we have enough, other times we run out.”

He added that challenges have arisen due to the increased demand for protective gear, globally, and prices of protective gear have escalated.

“We have asked for an audit of the stock in the hospitals so we are able to address the matter, at any time, if there is a concern. We want to ensure staff are protected,” said Mkhize.

Within South Africa, 135 healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19 thus far.

Mkhize concluded his address by thanking the 217 doctors from Cuba who will work alongside South African healthcare workers to offer Covid-19 interventions at the community level. Fifth and sixth-year medical students from various universities will also join the fight against Covid-19 on the ground, along with retired doctors and private practitioners who have offered their service to the public sector.

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