Inequalities in multimorbidity in South Africa

Journal Article


Journal Title

International Journal for Equity in Health

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

BioMed Central Ltd


University of Cape Town

BACKGROUND: Very little is known about socioeconomic related inequalities in multimorbidity, especially in developing countries. Traditionally, studies on health inequalities have mainly focused on a single disease condition or different conditions in isolation. This paper examines socioeconomic inequality in multimorbidity in illness and disability in South Africa between 2005 and 2008. METHODS: Data were drawn from the 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 rounds of the nationally representative annual South African General Household Surveys (GHS). Indirectly standardised concentration indices were used to assess socioeconomic inequality. A proxy index of socioeconomic status was constructed, for each year, using a selected set of variables that are available in all the GHS rounds. Multimorbidity in illness and disability were constructed using data on nine illnesses and six disabilities contained in the GHS. RESULTS: Multimorbidity affects a substantial number of South Africans. Most often, based on the nine illness conditions and six disability conditions considered, multimorbidity in illness and multimorbidity in disability are each found to involve only two conditions. In 2008 in South Africa, the multimorbidity that affected the greatest number of individuals (0.6% of the population) combined high blood pressure (BP) with at least one other illness. The combination of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other condition or conditions is the least reported (i.e. 0.02% of the population). Between 2005 and 2008, multimorbidity in illness and disability is more prevalent among the poor; in disabilities this is yet more consistent. The concentration index of multiple illnesses in 2005 and 2008 are 0.0009 and 0.0006 respectively. The corresponding values for multiple disabilities are 0.0006 and 0.0006 respectively. CONCLUSION: While there is a dearth of information on the socioeconomic distribution of multimorbidity in many developing countries, this paper has shown that its distribution in South Africa indicates that the poor bear a greater burden of multimorbidity. This is more so for disability than for illness. This paper argues that, given the high burden and skewed socioeconomic distribution of multimorbidity, there is a need to design policies to address this situation. Further, there is a need to design surveys that specifically assess multimorbidity.