Despite the best efforts of our National Department of Health to reduce the burden of disease in South Africa, many of today’s most common diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases of lifestyle continue to rise sharply in numbers. Just the number of those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes continues to rise unabated, despite increasing disease management interventions.
In 1980 the World Health Organization estimated there were 108-million adult diabetes sufferers in the world. Today that number exceeds 422-million, despite access to more pharmaceutical drugs. It is estimated that 8.5% of people in the world suffer from diabetes and 3.7 million people died from this preventable and mostly curable disease.
In developing countries like South Africa on-going poverty and malnutrition are a perfect breeding ground for even more ill-health. Many people are unaware that 15% of South African infants are born with a low birth weight and with symptoms of malnutrition.
In the 2014-2015 Strategic Plan for the National Department of Health it was recorded that 9% of children who die under the age of five years, die needlessly as a result of acute malnutrition. Despite this, only 3% of the national health budget is allocated to disease prevention, including nutrition interventions. Since the 1990s South Africa’s malnutrition burden has remained stable, with no tangible reduction in incidence.
Nutritional deficiencies cost GDP R16.3 billion per year
According to research by the World Bank, it is estimated that South Africa loses about R16.3 billion every year in GDP to preventable vitamin and mineral deficiencies arising from malnutrition in infants and adults, although it would only cost an estimated R836-million to alleviate this problem through micronutrient nutrition interventions (feeding schemes and supplementation) in the public healthcare system.
The World Health Organization and other United Nations bodies have defined optimum health as one of the greatest social goals. But despite countless declarations, countries have failed to achieve this aim. This is primarily due to their dependency upon corporate interests. ‘Health for All’ is a great slogan, but where is the involvement of people to help implement that?
A new economic war on human health is being waged on the battlefield inside our bodies at the cellular level. We are being told that over the fifteen years governments around the world will have to spend almost 50-trillion US dollars for the management of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness and respiratory diseases alone.
This amount essentially equals the sum of the gross domestic products of almost the entire world, excluding only the United States and China.
Health is fundamental human right for all
The Traditional and Natural Health Alliance (TNHA) believes health and wellness is not the privilege of a few. Health is a fundamental human right for all of us. However, this right that has been systematically neglected and abused. Today health has become synonymous with the giant global business of pharmaceutical and medical technologies, which thrive on disease, and not health.
This country can no longer afford to spend a mere 3% of its health budget on prevention and 97% on disease management. Over time, the ration should be 60% prevention/ 40% intervention. It is not surprising then that diabetes, cancer, heart and mental problems have increased so much during the last several decades.
A key part of the work of the TNHA in future will be to drive awareness of all aspects of health, most importantly to remind us what we often forget – how important health is, how each of us can contribute to curbing the spread of diseases naturally, and how little we have to do to keep ourselves healthy. Already, we are sharing this vital information on our popular Facebook page.
Too often we forget that achieving and maintaining good health has little to do with medicine. Instead of promoting prevention, well-oiled NGOs spend all their time and valuable grant money on short-sighted pursuits like challenging patent rights for more access to high risk pharmaceutical drugs which do not cure disease.
Good health starts with the prevention of diseases. It starts with access to nutrient-rich foods coming from our fields and farms, food not tainted with chemicals, artificial hormones, antibiotics and untested genetic technologies. Health also starts with clean water, sanitation and an unpolluted environment.
Our health begins with knowledge
Fundamentally, our health begins with knowledge. With modern understanding of the underlying causes of diseases, and natural ways how to prevent and eliminate them effectively and safely, we can reverse the spread of many diseases at a fraction of what we spend on drug therapies and clinical interventions. Good health can be achieved inexpensively and sustainably.
We will lobby for Health Minister, Aaron Motasaledi to include tangible preventative health strategies in the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme and to allow for the public to choose the therapies of their choice which will be covered by national health insurance. Sadly the Strategic Plan documents for the rollout of the NHI do not make any provision for registered allied health practitioners or traditional health practitioners (healers) to integrate into the new healthcare system.
The TNHA will work towards building a new prevention-oriented health care system by supporting local natural health innovation and research, and creating strong networks between all industry stakeholders and the public in future.
South Africans need to make a conscious choice today. Either we allow the continued plunder of our public health purse by mostly ineffective treatments and services and allow our future generations to become economically dependent upon the disease business – or we take responsibility NOW by creating a new prevention-oriented health care system.
The goal of providing health to all South Africans can only be achieved when the focus of healthcare is switched from intervention to prevention – that is, towards averting and correcting the malfunctioning of our body before diseases develop. We also need to educate fellow South Africans about the benefits of natural health interventions and to identify the problem with our current disease-management system, which we incorrectly label as ‘healthcare’.
We therefore invite all manufacturers, retailers, health practitioners, therapists and the public to join the TNHA and to be part of this vision.
By Anthony Rees, general secretary of TNHA