The Cost Of Allergies In Children

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates of allergic disorders in the developing world and we are fast catching up to developed countries such as the US, New Zealand, Australia and Europe.

So says Wilmi Hudsonberg, spokesperson of allergy pharmaceutical firm, Pharma Dynamics. About 30 percent of South Africans suffer from nasal allergies (16 488 000) and an estimated six percent of the population or 3 297 600 suffer from true food allergies. Statistics also show that the prevalence of allergies is increasing more rapidly in disadvantaged communities and that this population group tends to be more heavily burdened by severe allergic conditions,” says Hudsonberg.

SA’s Current Allergy Rates Among Children And Young Adults:

  • Asthma – 1.8 million children in SA have asthma. In the Global Initiative for Asthma report, SA ranked fourth for asthma mortality in the 5-to-34-year-old age group and fifth for asthma case fatality rates, which is alarming.

  • Eczema and allergic rhinitis (hayfever) – The most recent International Study on Asthma and Allergy in Childhood (ISAAC), which examined eczema and allergic rhinitis in teenagers, found that 33.2 percent experienced problems with allergic rhinitis and 11.9 percent suffered from eczema. These figures are among the highest in the world when compared to other international studies.

  • Food allergy data is scant, but a study conducted by the South African Food Sensitisation and Food Allergy (SAFFA), has preliminary data showing a true food allergy rate at 2.5 percent among 1-to-3 year-olds. This translates to 50 000 children with food allergy in this age group alone. Egg was the most common allergen, followed by peanuts, cow’s milk and fish.

Side Effects

Hudsonberg points out that allergies mostly affect children and young adults and have a negative impact on quality of life. “In children allergic disorders affect sleep, impair learning, memory and behaviour. Children with food allergies are also at significant risk, and the condition means extra stress for their families over issues such as care at school, risk of death and the need for emergency medication in the form of injectable adrenaline in case of a severe allergic attack, also known as anaphylaxis, which could be fatal.”

According to Hudsonberg, there is currently no legislation in place to protect children with allergies at SA schools. Many schools refuse to stock or administer the life-saving medication, leaving parents no choice but to home-school their children, which isn’t always a viable option. Many of these children are also not allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities, because of the risk of exposure to the allergen(s) it poses, leaving them feeling isolated.

Addressing An Epidemic

Experts warn that should the unmet needs and strategies to prevent the burgeoning “allergy epidemic” not be addressed, it could soon overwhelm the country’s already fragile healthcare system. There are only 10 registered allergologists in SA and only four dedicated allergy clinics at Pietersburg Hospital (Limpopo), Tygerberg Hospital, Groote Schuur Hospital and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. The cost of allergies to the South African economy is in excess of R606-million a year, with healthcare expenditure and lost productivity being the biggest contributing factors.

Allergy Awareness

Pharma Dynamics has launched a schools programme, which consists of educational workshops that are facilitated by medical specialists. These workshops are completely free and are open to parents, teachers and learners, and aims to coach parents and teachers on how to deal with and better relate to learners with allergies, who often feel stigmatised as a result of their condition. To sign up for these workshops, schools can go to Additional allergy resources are also available online, which both parents and teachers can use as teaching aids in the home or classroom setting.


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