Often referred to as the “silent killer” as there are rarely visible symptoms, two out of three patients with hypertension are unaware that they have this condition. The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department reported that it is estimated that one in four South Africans between the ages of 15 and 64 suffer from hypertension. It is one of the leading causes of heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, and premature death. “More advanced cases may cause headaches, especially pulsating headaches behind the eye, visual disturbances, nausea, and vomiting. Patients need to have their blood pressure checked every two years from the age of 18. If a patient’s blood pressure is high or they have a family history of hypertension, stroke, or heart attack, it is advisable that he/she have it checked more frequently.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women in SA. As the National Department of Health (NDoH) explained in the Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control Policy: “The main cause of cervical cancer is infection of the cervix by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), of which strains 16 and 18 are the most common types associated with the development of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a relatively unique cancer in that it has a long precursor phase, during which risk and abnormalities can be detected by screening. Pelvic exams and pap smears help detect signs of cervical cancer, certain STDS and STIs, and other health problems related to the female reproductive system. “Women should receive their first pelvic screening from an OB-GYN within three years of their first experience with vaginal intercourse, or by the age of 21. Following the initial screening, patients should receive a full pelvic screening and pap smear every 2 years and those who are over the age of 30 (or those who receive three negative tests in a row) may be able to only receive a pap smear every 3 to 5 years. Women can also discuss birth control methods during these appointments,” advised PublicHealth.org.
While cancer is a leading cause of mortality globally, breast cancer is the mostly commonly diagnosed cancer among women globally. According to Naomi Lince-Deroche et al., historically in South Africa, access to breast-cancer screening and treatment services has been characterised by regional and socioeconomic disparities. “These disparities, compounded by relatively low levels of knowledge of the disease and how to detect it early, have tended to result in late presentation at health facilities,” the authors wrote in Breast cancer in South Africa: developing an affordable and achievable plan to improve detection and survival (2017 SAHR – 20 Year Anniversary Edition). Therefore, breast self-examination is the simplest and the most cost-effective method to early detection of breast cancer and for women who do not have adequate access to health care is the only method for screening. “By learning the proper method of breast examination, breast tumours as small as 1cm can be detected by the patient herself,” explained doctors Azizeh Farshbaf Khalili and Mahnaz Shahnaz in Breast cancer screening in women referred to health centres in Tabriz, Iran (Indian Journal of Medical Sciences, Vol.64, No.4, April 2010). “Breast self-examination is a very easy technique and requires 15-20min a month to be done. After the age of 20, patients should examine their breast after the end of each menstruation cycle. In general, Cleveland Clinic doesn’t recommend screening mammograms for patients under 40 years old. However, for those with genetic mutations, they suggest screening begin at 25, and in patients with a family history of breast cancer, screening is often initiated 10 years earlier than the first affected relative in the family.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a serious public health issue. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) estimates that globally, more than a million patients are diagnosed with one or more sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea, chlamydia, or syphilis every day. “STIs can have devastating effects on sexual, reproductive, and general health. They can also lead to several complications. If left untreated chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause damage to reproductive organs and result in long term complications such as infertility. To make matters worse, STIs increase the risk of HIV infection and transmission. The high numbers of STI cases in SA have partly been due to inadequate prevention and treatment gaps. Some patients with STIs such as chlamydia, may go untreated because they don’t show any symptoms.