It has been six months since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in South Africa. From the onset, it was clear that the spread of the virus would impact the country in a unique way and that addressing it would require a tailored response.

The country has high rates of comorbidities like hypertension, obesity, tuberculosis, HIV, and cardiovascular conditions, and people with comorbidities have a greater risk of developing complications when infected with coronavirus.

In South Africa, the spread of COVID-19 has also highlighted existing inequalities, including in access to health care.

Johannesburg-based advocacy organisation Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) is working to ensure that South Africa's response to COVID-19 doesn’t leave anyone behind, including those in rural communities.

Global Citizen spoke with Russell Rensburg, the director at RHAP, about the organisation’s work in the time of COVID-19.

We are primarily a health advocacy group, rather than a provider of frontline services, so our observations have been on a system level. At the onset of the pandemic, very little was known on how the pandemic would play out in the South African context.

What we did know was that globally, people living with non-communicable diseases, particularly those living with diabetes, had a greater risk of complications if they were infected with coronavirus.

In South Africa, there are over 3.5 million people living with diabetes, with only a third of these people currently on treatment. This means that potentially over 2 million people do not have their diabetes under control, which places them at incredible risk of COVID-19 complications.

We also know that, until we have a vaccine, the best way that we can protect ourselves and others is to strictly adhere to the non-medical interventions like handwashing, physical distancing, and wearing a mask.

We co-authored a study that surveyed over 6,000 people across economic statuses, and found that less than 60% of those surveyed consistently adhered to these guidelines. So the big message we would give to people is to firstly wear a mask, physically distance when you can, and know your health status.

Read the full article about rural health advocacy by Lerato Mogoatlhe at Global Citizen.