Health promotion is extremely important to Rhodes university Pharmacy lecturer Professor Sunitha Srinivas. “Pharmacy revolves around disease management, it does not talk about health, and there’s a huge difference in my mind,” she said.
She explains health promotion as firstly the prevention of diseases and thereafter, if it is too late for prevention, avoidance of complications arising from the disease.
“My interest in health is about preventing diseases and managing your patients so that they understand how self-care comes into the picture and how they can prevent complications of the disease,” she said.
A concerning issue to Srinivas is the epidemic increase in non-communicable diseases, which refers to diseases that are not contagious. These are diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and mental illnesses. “It is happening too quickly and we cannot afford to ignore it,” she said.
Srinivas feels that there is not enough concern over the issue. “What is it that we are always told in South Africa? We are told that HIV/AIDS is a big problem, so you would expect 60-80% of people to be dying of that. But that’s not what the statistics are telling you – communicable diseases are responsible for 48%, while 43% of deaths in this country are from non-communicable diseases,” she said.
Srinivas is alarmed by the recent statistics posted by the World Health Organisation regarding non-communicable diseases in South Africa. 21% of males and 41% of females are obese. 35% of men and 32% of females have hypertension. 28% of men and 8% of females are smokes, and the alcohol per capita consumption is 18 litres and 1 litres for men and women respectively. Srinivas feels that these statistics explain the rise in non-communicable diseases, and attributes the epidemic to the unhealthy way that many South Africans are living.
Srinivas stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and a large part of this is being educated on the four risk factors and understanding how to control them. The four risk factors are: food that is high in salt, fat and sugar; physical inactivity; increased use of alcohol; and increased use of tobacco. According to Srinivas, it all boils down to temptation, and people need to start making healthier choices. She urges you to ask yourself, ‘what is the price I will have to pay later when I don’t have age on my side, and how am I abusing my own body in order to get that pleasure?’
Srinivas feels that it is the responsibility of society to teach others about prevention and self-care in order to combat the epidemic increase. “A lot of the time we are talking about low-literate patients where health literacy is lacking, so if they can’t connect the dots it has to be our mandate to connect those dots for them.”
It is for this reason that she is so excited to be working with Rhodes University Pharmacy Students Association (RUPSA) as a staff-student liaison for the MyHealth project, an initiative aimed at educating Rhodes support staff on disease prevention and management. To find out more about the initiative, click here. (and I will link this to my article about MyHealth which will explain it more indepth)
“I prefer to call myself a mentor because for me, it’s all about the next generation. For me this is a dream come true because the RUPSA executive committee and staff committee that we have, these are individuals I’ll be working with closely and through them actualizing all these aspects of prevention and promotion”.
It is important to Srinivas that the project is not only limited to Rhodes support staff, but that it reaches their spouses, children, and the rest of the community. “If we want to talk about the prevention of let’s say, hypertension, there’s no point in talking to a 50-year old women who is a support staff at Rhodes who is already hypertensive,” she said. Srinivas wishes to educate in order to ensure people are equipped so that future generations are not at risk of developing the same diseases.
Srinivas’s aim is to create a space for health equity. She explains that “there is no point in saying ‘if we have non-communicable diseases and we make medicines available in our health care system, we are sorted.’”
“We are not sorted unless we prevent it. That’s the reason my focus is on prevention first.”