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Employee wellness programmes to save SA economy?

The latest statistics from Statistics South Africa reveal that lifestyle-related diseases are reaching almost epidemic proportions. At the same time, labour unrest and the disconcerting trends in absenteeism are on the rise. Because of this, South Africa is in danger of losing its competitive edge. So could employee wellness programmes end up saving the day?

South Africa, unlike many other countries, suffers from a quadruple burden of disease:

  • Infectious diseases,
  • Chronic lifestyle disease, and
  • High rates of interpersonal violence and injuries.

These can all result in a loss of valued skills and expertise, decreased productivity and profits, psychological problems and stress with a dependence on alcohol and drugs often compounding the issue.

Reports reveal that while tuberculosis remains South Africa's biggest killer, diseases related to lifestyle – including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer - are accounting for more and more deaths. "These diseases have a particularly devastating effect on businesses and productivity levels," asserts says Dr Jacques Snyman, managing director of Integrated Care Solutions at Agility.

"South Africa has had a 500% increase in sick leave since 2001 while a mammoth R19 billion is lost every year because of absenteeism in South Africa. It may seem like an obvious thing to do but investing in the health of your workforce is a business imperative that can result in higher levels of productivity, decreased rates of absenteeism and ultimately more zeros on that highly coveted bottom line," he says.