Why non-communicable diseases are ticking time bomb in Africa

diabetes blood sugar level covid-19
Since the onset of Covid-19, diabetes has emerged as one of the leading pre-existing conditions that places patients at a higher risk of death.
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Kigali, Rwanda. Health experts from Africa have raised concerns over the rise in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the continent.

In a plenary session at the ongoing second International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2022) in Kigali, Rwanda, the experts from across different fields in the medical space expressed worry that even as the continent continues to grapple with infectious diseases that have already overstretched health systems, the emergence of NCDs could spell even more danger.

Currently, the highest burdens of NCDs in the continent include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, as well as injuries and trauma.

“Hypertension is the most common cardiovascular disease with the biggest risk factor being alcohol intake. The most worrying fact is that two in three people living with the condition either do not know that they have it or they have not been diagnosed,” said Dr Prebo Barango the Medical Officer of the Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases Cluster at the WHO AFRO.

According to Dr Barango, cancer comes in second, with childhood cancers accounting for between 20-30 percent of the disease in the continent.

“Cervical cancer is also a problem with 19 out of 20 high burdened cervical cancer countries being in the continent,” he said.

Also, according to the reports, Africa has the highest diabetes burden globally, with the continent being home to 24 million people living with the disease.

Not diagnosed

“Half of these are diagnosed while the remaining half are not diagnosed,” revealed Dr Barango.

Ironically, despite being the least motorized continent in the world, Africa accounts for the most accidents globally, with road carnage contributing the highest in injuries and trauma cases.

Factors that have worsened this burden include a lack of finance and medical personnel, which is mainly a result of brain drain.

“For instance, low-income countries account for 70 percent of the global burden of mental health, yet only invest 10 percent towards this area, as compared to the developed world which invests up to 90 percent in mental health funding. On the other hand, the distribution of psychiatrists to the population in the continent is less than 1:100,000 population,” he added.

The already dire situation was exacerbated by the pandemic which exposed the underinvestment in NCDs in the continent.

According to Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director, Africa CDC, one of the response mechanisms is working on prevention.

“50-60 percent of NCDs can be prevented. Also, providing capacity and infrastructure for treatment. Ensure people with NCDs can access universal health coverage and we need to include NCDs in the UHC package,” he said.

Dr Ogwel said that a time has come for Africa to apply local cost-effective solutions to local problems.

“Many times, we focus on strategies developed at the global and regional level, instead of presenting the community level success stories that could give momentum and focus,” he added.

Already countries like Rwanda are showing the way for the rest of the continent.

For instance, they have come up with measures to try and reverse the situation by increasing screening for NCDs and introducing tax-free packages for cars using green energy.