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Original Research

Knowledge and perceptions of risk for cardiovascular disease: Findings of a qualitative investigation from a low-income peri-urban community in the Western Cape, South Africa

Sam Surka, Krisela Steyn, Katherine Everett-Murphy, Thomas A. Gaziano, Naomi Levitt

African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine; Vol 7, No 1 (2015), 8 pages. doi: 10.4102/phcfm.v7i1.891

Submitted: 29 May 2015
Published:  22 October 2015


Background: South Africa currently faces an increasing burden of cardiovascular disease. Although referred to clinics after community screening initiatives, few individuals who are identified to be at high risk for developing cardiovascular disease attend. Low health literacy and risk perception have been identified as possible causes. We investigated the knowledge and perceptions about risk for cardiovascular disease in a community.

Method: We conducted a series of focus group discussions with individuals from a low incomeperi-urban community in the Western Cape, South Africa. Different methods of presenting risk were explored. The data were organised into themes and analysed to find associations between themes to provide explanations for our findings.

Results: Respondents’ knowledge of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors varied, but most were familiar with the terms used to describe cardiovascular disease. In contrast, understanding of the concept of risk was poor. Risk was perceived as a binary concept and evaluation of different narrative and visual methods of presenting risk was not possible.

Conclusion: Understanding cardiovascular disease and its risk factors requires a different set of skills from that needed to understand uncertainty and risk. The former requires knowledge of facts, whereas understanding of risk requires numerical and computational skills. Without a better understanding of risk, risk assessments for cardiovascular disease may fail in this community.

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Author affiliations

Sam Surka, Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
Krisela Steyn, Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
Katherine Everett-Murphy, Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
Thomas A. Gaziano, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University, United States
Naomi Levitt, Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa, Cape Town and Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa



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ISSN: 2071-2928 (print) | ISSN: 2071-2936 (online)

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