Sunday, November 16, 2008

Growing Old in South Africa

Ten years ago the average life span for a South African man was 55.5 years according to the US Census Bureau’s international database.

Today, most South Africans will not live to be 50 according to a news report in The Times!

A report from the UN Population Fund says that a South African man is expected to live 48.8 years.

South African women will live slightly longer to the 'ripe old age' 49.6 years.

These estimated life expectancies are worse than those for men and women living in war-devastated Iraq or Brazil which has the highest murder rate in the world.

In a continental perspective, the typical South African will live as long as someone living in strife-ridden Somalia or Ethiopia.

How did we get here?

A major reason behind the drastic fall in life expectancy is related to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Among women aged 15-49 the rate for HIV infection is just shy of 22 percent according to the UNFPA State of World Population 2008.

Add to these numbers the rates for TB and what you have in South Africa is a shocking medical crisis.

What is equally critical is the state of medical care. Most state hospitals are literally falling apart. It is not unusual to find patients sleeping on the floors of packed wards.

Worse is the troubling fact that most hospitals do not have enough doctors and specialists to warrant being called a hospital.

I am 44 now. So by typical expectations I have 4.8 more years to live. I guess at one level it is some kind of comfort because I do not have any medical insurance and the recent crisis has just about wiped out my pension savings in South Africa and the US.

I know that I am not alone and it is not my intention to sound alarmist or overly dramatic.

I am worried about my aged parents who will need more and more medical attention in the immediate years. My father is going blind from diabetes and there is not one eye specialist at our local hospital.

Just last week we took him to a private specialist only to find out that he does not even have the most rudimentary equipment to do tests that will tell us what is going on and what the future holds.

Growing old in South Africa is not what it should be and a large part of the problem lies with a power-drunk and inept government that has failed its mandate to provide a "better life for all" in South Africa.

I am going now to think about my last days.



Dade said...

A sobering post, Ridwan, my friend. The AIDS epidemic is so tragic and heart-breaking that it brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it. I saw a film about South Africa's epidemic on OPB called "I Will Not Die Until My Daughter Goes to School." It was, quite honestly, one of the most heart-breaking films I've ever seen. I wept copiously when I watched it.

But, apart from being unable to deal with AIDS, it sounds as though South Africa lacks even the facilities to deal with well-known and more treatable illnesses like TB and diabetes. This is discouraging.

I'm afraid the world is generally going to become more like South Africa, in this respect, than is South Africa likely to improve its condition.

Keep the faith. Sometimes, it is all we've got.

Ridwan said...

Hello Dade:

Thank you kindly for your comment. The HIV/AIDS situation in SAfrica and southern Africa is absolutely devastating.

A relative of mine who works in a state hospital says that in a typical ward of about 20 patients there are 16 AIDS/HIV cases and almost everyone of those affected have TB too.

Some strains of TB are not curable.

We are in serious trouble in South Africa.

I can't imagine being a doctor working under these kinds of conditions.

TB is a very infectous disease as you know and folks can get infected in taxis/buses, schools, just about anywhere.

I am saddened by it all and see reason to believe that you may be right about our conditions everywhere.

I see no quick fixes.

Still, I am willing to keep the faith and be hopeful.

Peace brother,