HomeArticlesDo not take with a pinch of salt, says health deputy

Do not take with a pinch of salt, says health deputy

Hundreds of millions of rands in healthcare costs can be saved if South Africans reduce their salt intake, says deputy health minister Gwen Ramakgopa

Reducing daily salt intake to less than a teaspoon a day can save South Africa R300-million in the treatment and consequences of hypertension, said deputy minister of health Gwen Ramokgopa at the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Salt Summit in Sandton, Johannesburg on Thursday.  

High salt intake is one of the risk factors of hypertension, a condition affecting an estimated 6.3-million people in South Africa, one of the highest rates in the world. 

“In South Africa high blood pressure and heart disease account for 9% of all deaths in adults over 30,” said Ramokgopa. “Eighty percent of non-communicable disease [such as hypertension] is preventable.” 

The Heart and Stroke foundation estimates that currently South Africans consume 40g of salt a day, which government aims to reduce through legislation to the World Health Organisation recommended 5g a day by the year 2020. 

According to Ramokgopa, such legislation will help reduce the country’s disease burden, something which the national treasury will benefit most from as non-communicable diseases have become more prominent in the younger, working population.

“Savings include the cost of providing chronic health care to patients with high blood pressure, savings from loss of productivity as hypertension and other chronic diseases are now more common in the younger, economically active population and long-term savings in the rehabilitation of people who suffered from strokes,” said Ramokgopa.

South Africa became the first country to legislate salt content in a wide range of processed food last year, a move which national health department’s director for non-communicable diseases, Melvyn Freeman, says is important to reach a large segment of the population as almost 60% of the salt consumed by South Africans is already contained in food and not added during meals. 

Ramokgopa said the food industry has more than doubled salt content over the past 20 years. 

She believed that the government’s salt reduction strategy will be as effective the country’s tobacco controls and that the government’s National Health Insurance Scheme will benefit from it. “In order to provide good quality healthcare we need fewer people requiring those services.”

Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa.