So dire are the consequences of alcohol abuse in the country that alcohol-attributable mortality in South Africa accounted for around 62 300 adult deaths, with 60% occurring in people in the low and 15% in the high socio-economic status groups in 2015, a newly-published study has revealed.
The findings by Charlotte Probs, Charles Parry, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen and Jurgen Rehm in the latest BioMed Central medical journal, also found that about 20% of women and 50% men were alcohol consumers in 2016.
“However, the prevalence of heavy drinking among current drinkers was found to be high – 20% among women and 45% among men,” claimed the study.
This figure was much higher in 2010 – the year the country hosted the Fifa World Cup – with the per capita consumption having almost doubled, indicating high levels of consumption among current drinkers.
A comparative risk assessment was performed in the country covering an adult population aged from 15 and older using individual, aggregate and risk relations.
The study also claimed that illness and life expectancy globally followed “a social gradient that puts populations of poorer countries as well as persons of lower socio-economic status at higher risk of dying prematurely”.
Causes of death in 19 categories investigated included HIV/Aids, lower respiratory infections, tuberculosis, ischemic heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
It added that alcohol use was proven to be the cause of death and a risk factor.
“This study was the first to quantify alcohol-attributable mortality in South Africa by socio-economic status, thereby adding an important dimension to previous analysis of mortality and health burden associated with alcohol use.
“Furthermore, this study included deaths from HIV/Aids which has not been taken into account in previous analysis.
“As expected, a lower socio-economic status was associated with a clearly elevated mortality rate from alcohol-attributable causes of death.
“Given the distribution of race groups across socio-economic strata, the elevated mortality burden in the low and middle socio-economic groups was largely experienced by black Africans as well as other non-white population groups,” claimed the study.
The study called for effective policy measures to prevent alcohol-attributable harm “such as limitations of availability and affordability”.
Restrictions on alcohol marketing and improvement of the public healthcare system were among steps government could introduce.
“When considering alcohol policies, it should be taken into account that about 23% of alcohol consumed in South Africa in 2015 was unrecorded. It is likely the lion’s share of the unrecorded alcohol is consumed by people of lower socio-economic status.
“This means policies and interventions targeting the consumption of unrecorded alcohol might be more suitable for reducing alcohol-attributable harm in people of low socio-economic status,” suggested the report.