HEALTH: Self-Medicating a Growing Trend for Cash-Strapped Consumers
Recent Western Cape Business News
MANY SOUTH Africans are turning to self-medication with the aim of building up their immune systems in the flu and allergy season. Anti-flu tablets, cough medicines and antihistamines are some of the over-the-counter meds people are using in a bid to avoid having to pay excruciating prices for a visit to the doctor.
The rising cost of health care means that many South Africans have far less money to spend on treatments for illness. Consumers are thus increasingly opting for self-medication, a trend encouraged by widening access to the internet. A growing number of people are researching their health concerns and potential remedies online, even before seeking the advice of pharmacists. This trend is increasing consumers' confidence in their ability to self-medicate.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in spend on natural health products, complementary and alternative medicines. This is a clear indicator that consumers are looking to alternative ways to stay healthy and prevent expensive hospital visits,” says Bruce Dennison, president of the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPASA), a body that protects consumers against exploitation by unethical practices. Launched in 1976, the HPASA has long been at the forefront of the natural health products, nutritional dietary supplements and complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) industries, and represents a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers and practitioners.
A contributing factor to this self-medication trend may be South Africa’s rising unemployment figures, which increase the fear of job losses and make those lucky enough to be in employment reluctant to take time off work to visit the doctor. “This has notably benefited areas such as cough remedies and combination products in analgesics and cough, cold and allergy (hay fever) remedies,” says Dennison.
Self-medication isn’t the only route out of poor health, however. “People are realising that their illnesses could be linked to their diet and they’re therefore starting to make smarter nutritional choices,” says Andrea du Plessis, nutritional expert at Vital Health Foods. She points out that heart disease and diabetes are just two illnesses that can be linked to unhealthy food choices. A change in diet could save consumers money as this could ultimately result in their spending less money in the doctor’s room.
Other optional – and expensive – lifestyle habits, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, contribute to poor health. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa is one of the top 20 biggest alcohol-drinking nations in the world, and the third-biggest in Africa. With “sin taxes” on booze and cigarettes having increased this year, it makes all-round financial sense to quit both.
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