The burden of hypertension in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa: A 6-year perspective

S Pillay, D Pillay, R S Pillay


Background. Hypertension (HPT) and its complications continue to pose a global threat and contribute to premature mortality worldwide. The adverse interactions between HPT, obesity and COVID-19 are currently being witnessed globally and represent a collision of pandemics. Understanding the burden that this non-communicable disease (NCD) poses in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province, South Africa (SA), would help in developing improved public healthcare strategies.

Objectives. To describe the burden of HPT in all the districts of KZN over a 6-year period.

Methods. HPT data are routinely collected from all KZN public health facilities (both clinics and hospitals) as part of the District Health Information System (DHIS). In this retrospective study, we accessed HPT records from the DHIS over a period of 6 years (2014 - 2019, inclusive). Data collected included the number of patients screened, diagnosed and initiated on therapy for HPT, together with the number of obese patients.

Results. The slopes for HPT screening were positive at both clinics and hospitals in KZN (considerably more at clinics than hospitals, with a difference in elevations of slopes of p<0.001), with a significantly greater percentage of the population having been screened at rural clinics than at hospitals (difference in elevation of slopes p<0.001). A significantly greater number of patients aged <40 years (p<0.001) were being screened for HPT at clinics than at hospitals (2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20), while hospitals screened considerably more patients aged ≥40 years in 2017 - 2018 (p<0.001). The numbers of new hypertensives diagnosed and having treatment initiated were on an upward slope at both clinics and hospitals, with clinics having a greater elevation of slope than hospitals (p<0.001), irrespective of patient age. A significantly greater number of patients aged ≥40 years (p<0.05) were diagnosed with HPT at both clinics and hospitals in KZN (2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20). KZN clinics remained the first port of call for known hypertensives throughout the study period. Obesity was prevalent at both clinic and hospital level, although figures were significantly higher at clinics. Over 80% of the obesity burden was carried by the rural clinics and hospitals.

Conclusions. Screening, diagnosis, treatment initiation and chronic management of HPT occur mainly at rural clinic level. The SA government needs to heed these findings and redirect resources (staffing and equipment) to this level. The prevalence of obesity was highest at rural healthcare facilities (clinics more than hospitals). More needs to be done to combat the obesity pandemic if we are to win the battle against NCDs (HPT and diabetes mellitus). A significant number of patients aged <40 years are being screened for HPT, which bodes well for the province, as early diagnosis and treatment of HPT are vital to prevent complications.

Authors' affiliations

S Pillay, Department of Internal Medicine, King Edward VIII Hospital and Nelson R Mandela School of Clinical Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

D Pillay, Star College, Durban, South Africa

R S Pillay, Clifton College, Durban, South Africa

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Hypertension; Diabetes mellitus; Obesity; Non-communicable diseases; Clinics v. hospitals; Urban v. rural; Screening for hypertension; Hypertension therapy

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(2):159-165. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i2.15056

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-02-01
Date published: 2021-02-01

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