Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Chronic diseases and cancers are becoming more prevalent in SA, data from insurer Discovery Health suggest.

In 2017, the number of Discovery Health Medical Scheme members with at least one chronic condition rose 5.6% to 642,410, the insurer said in a report published on Thursday.

"SA, like many countries in the world, continues to suffer from an increasing prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, also known as diseases of lifestyle," the group said.

The number of Discovery Health Medical Scheme members with at least one chronic condition — such as diabetes or high blood pressure — more than doubled between 2008 and 2017.

Over the same period, the number of members rose 41.8% to 2.8-million.

Discovery Health CEO Jonathan Broomberg said claims data indicated that a growing number of members had more than one chronic disease, "and some are experiencing up to five chronic diseases".

Hypothyroidism saw the biggest increase in enrolled members in 2017, increasing 11% on the year to 55,331 members.

Essential hypertension was the most prevalent chronic illness, with 334,218 members enrolled. This was followed by hypercholesterolemia, asthma and diabetes.

The insurer said its data also reflected "the global trend in increasing cancer prevalence".

"The number of members receiving oncology treatment has increased over the past 10 years due to the higher prevalence of cancer in SA and globally," Broomberg said.

The three most common cancers were breast cancer, with 14,435 members afflicted, prostate cancer (12,122 members) and colorectal cancer (3,970 members).

The biggest increases in 2017, however, were seen in soft tissue and thyroid cancers, with the number of members claiming for these illnesses up 8.2% in each case from 2016.

Broomberg said new cancer treatment methods, including improved drugs, "come at a far higher cost than the older treatments they replace, which is a challenge for medical schemes to manage".

Meanwhile, the insurer said birth rates were falling. Births per 1,000 lives on the scheme declined from 16.3 in 2008 to 13.7 in 2017.