Jan 24, 2021

Understanding Non-communicable/Communicable Disease Syndemics in Transitional Societies


Globalisation has resulted in a change in lifestyle and an overlapping high prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Transitional societies are undergoing epidemiological and demographic shifts and heading towards a situation where disease patterns are rapidly changing.

Many countries including South Africa are undergoing rapid epidemiological transition. The burden of non­communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, is rising and is predicted to increase significantly over the next few decades. Compared to the epidemiological shift that occurred in the developed world, this shift is occurring over a relatively short period of time, giving health care systems little time to adjust priorities. High levels of infectious agents co-exist with an increasing burden of non-communicable disease. This is an unprecedented situation and calls for a better understanding of epidemiological changes including spatial and temporal trends in disease patterns. However, few epidemiological studies have been conducted in these settings. This project seeks to fill this research gap.

To this end a colloquium, “Understanding the epidemiology and health system impact of the overlap between infectious and non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries,” was hosted at the University of Cape Town in November 2013. The event was opened by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price and attended by delegates from the academic community, government, health and non-governmental organisations. Two papers were published in the wake of the colloquium and the research group are currently collaborating on an ongoing and funded research project titled: “Strengthening health systems for chronic care: intersection of communicable and non-communicable disease services in South Africa.”

Selected outcomes

  • Oni, T., McGrath, N., BeLue, R., Roderick, P., Colagiuri, S., May, C. R., & Levitt, N. S. (2014). Chronic diseases and multi-morbidity-a conceptual modification to the WHO ICCC model for countries in health transition. BMC public health, 14(1), 575.