Multimorbidity in non-communicable diseases in South African primary healthcare

Lalkhen, H. ; Mash, R. (2015)

CITATION: Lalkhen, H. & Mash, R. 2015. Multimorbidity in non-communicable diseases in South African primary healthcare. South African Medical Journal, 105(2):134-138, doi:10.7196/SAMJ.8696.

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Background: Multimorbidity in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is a complex global healthcare challenge that is becoming increasingly prevalent. In Africa, comorbidity of communicable diseases and NCDs is also increasing. Objectives: To evaluate the extent of multimorbidity among patients with NCDs in South African (SA) primary healthcare (PHC). Methods: A dataset obtained from a previous morbidity survey of SA ambulatory PHC was analysed. Data on conditions considered active and ongoing at consultations by PHC providers were obtained. Results: Altogether 18 856 consultations were included in the dataset and generated 31 451 reasons for encounter and 24 561 diagnoses. Hypertension was the commonest NCD diagnosis encountered (13.1%), followed by type 2 diabetes (3.9%), osteoarthritis (2.2%), asthma (2.0%), epilepsy (1.9%) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (0.6%). The majority of patients (66.9%) consulted a nurse and 33.1% a doctor. Overall 48.4% of patients had comorbidity and 14.4% multimorbidity. Multimorbidity (two or more conditions) was present in 36.4% of patients with COPD, 23.7% with osteoarthritis, 16.3% with diabetes, 15.3% with asthma, 12.0% with hypertension and 6.7% with epilepsy. Only 1.1% also had HIV, 1.0% TB, 0.4% depression and 0.04% anxiety disorders. Conclusion: About half of the patients with NCDs had comorbidity, and multimorbidity was common in patients with COPD and osteoarthritis. However, levels of multimorbidity were substantially lower than reported in higher-income countries. Future clinical guidelines, training of PHC nurses and involvement of doctors in the continuum of care should address the complexity of patients with NCDs and multimorbidity.

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