South African women must once again prioritise health in post pandemic world.

South African women must once again prioritise health in post pandemic world

Margot Brews, Head of Health Risk Management Strategy at Momentum Health Solutions

The pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on each and every one of us – it has been exhausting, stressful and traumatic. Most people went into fight, flight or freeze mode: either focusing on exercising and eating well to stay healthy, concentrating on staying busy and distracting themselves, or going into a state of merely coping and even shock.

The experience was different for everyone however, what was uniform is the significant strain it placed on the health system and people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. Several trends emerged in the health space during this period.

Hospital admissions for most elective and non-emergency surgeries dropped by over 50% during the lockdown period and settled at around 10% lower than in the years prior to Covid-19. There was also a noticeable dip in early detection and preventative screening. This delay in seeking care resulted in higher severity oncology claims, and a rise in mental health conditions – particularly anxiety, depression, and bipolar mood disorder.

In many ways, women are at the heart of these trends. They are, in most instances, the emotional foundation for the family unit and support for extended family members, as well as the main breadwinners and income earners in an increasing number of South African households. The strain of the pandemic took a significant toll on women in the country, with the blurring of boundaries between work, home and family life causing mental and physical side effects.

Mentally, the challenge of managing boundaries and experiencing life as though through a magnifying glass caused emotional distress, high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout, and as a result there was a rise in the use and prescription of medication as a coping mechanism.

Physically, a significant dip in preventative screening for HIV, and cervical and colon cancer – but interestingly not for breast cancer in 2020 – has also had an impact on women’s health. It means that serious illnesses are not being picked up early enough, so are at a more advanced rate when they are eventually detected – making them harder and more costly to treat.

Finding ways to fight the effects of the pandemic

Together with the growing economic crunch bearing down on most South African households, which has led to an emerging trend of cancelling gap and healthcare cover, we are starting to see the full effects of the pandemic unfold and how it continues to affect women’s health and wellbeing in various ways.

South African women are by and large becoming more overwhelmed. This is because we are not metabolising and managing the accumulated trauma of the past two years as well as the daily stress we live under, not making sensible lifestyle, diet, and exercise decisions, and suffering the consequences of chronic and serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease earlier on.

Many of us are not even consciously aware of the trauma our bodies and minds have been put under and continue to experience.

Published: 17 August 2022