(Bloomberg) -- Africa’s biggest health insurer said the number of heart-related deaths rose more than sixfold during the Covid-19 pandemic among the clients of one of its units.

Discovery Employee Benefits, a unit of Johannesburg-based Discovery Ltd. that has more than half a million clients, said 112 people died from cardiovascular complications the year through June. That compares to 17 a year in the two years before South Africa recorded its first case of the coronavirus, figures it provided to Bloomberg showed. 

“Analysis of our annual claims data reveals a visible and concerning increase in the incidence of deaths associated with cardiovascular disease among our client base,” said Guy Chennells, head of product at Discovery Employee Benefits, in a separate statement. There has also been “an increase in the incidence of deaths from cancer,” he said.

Discovery attributed the surge in deaths to a confluence of pandemic problems. This includes long Covid, an array of physical ailments that can follow an infection with the respiratory disease, a 50% reduction in medical checkups during that time and people exercising less. 

South Africa suffered severe waves of the coronavirus infection during 2020 and 2021 and imposed a number of restrictive lockdowns, curbing people’s movements. Still, one in 500 South Africans perished from the disease according to excess death data, which measures the number against an historical average.

Cancer deaths rose from two a month before the pandemic to about six during it, it said. That, Chenells said, was due to people not getting assessed and screened during the pandemic.

Heart deaths among clients at the division rose to 31 in the year to June 2021, before almost quadrupling the following year. 

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