Millions predicted to die from noncommunicable diseases in Africa by 2020: Here’s how we can fight the scourge

By Bakani M Ncube

I remember a friend of mine sending me a meme that said: “Get your change stuck in a vending machine? Don’t mess with it. Vending machines kill more people per year than sharks do!” This was hilarious. However, along with the words of one of my influencers, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, this meme got me contemplating on the severity of noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

According to PubMed, a noncommunicable disease (NCD) is a medical condition or disease that is by definition non-infectious and non-transmissible among people. They claim 38 million lives per year. This simply means that it is a disease or condition that if I have, I cannot pass it onto the next person and it is mine and mine alone. The four main types of NCDs have been highlighted to include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes. With this in mind, the World Health Organization (WHO) African Region Office has stated that millions of people are predicted to die from NCDs by 2020 and by 2025, 55% of all deaths will be attributable to NCDs and injuries. Most of the African adult population has at least one of the NCD risk factors which increases the chances of developing an NCD. It is due to these findings that these death threats can be predicted. Worldwide, deaths from NCDs are to reach an estimated 44 million within the next four years (a 15% increment) and this will be an increase from the WHO’s 2010 estimates. WHO African Region Officer Director states that “In recent years, much of the world’s attention and resources have – deservedly – been directed toward the immediate threat posed by emerging viruses, including Zika and Ebola. What this report serves to highlight, however, is that amidst these emergencies we cannot lose sight of the enormous health dangers posed by non-communicable diseases, especially since many of these can be prevented through changes in behavior and lifestyle.’’

In Africa, we mostly focus on the communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and the longest and most severe epidemic known in human history, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which was successfully eradicated in West Africa in December 2015. However, the NCDs do need attention too as these are diseases that can be life-threatening as well as debilitating. They place a significant hardship on the region, robbing people and families of those who otherwise should be enjoying their most productive years. We find ourselves as Pharmacy students in a very unique and important place. We can work together across the continent as the IPSF AfRO to raise awareness about NCDs as we have been doing in past years so as to combat the diseases and ensure that the next time we read the WHO Report of the Regional Director, these terrifying numbers may have significantly decreased. We must do everything we can to reverse these disturbing trends.

The prevention of NCDs is largely dependent on 4 major behavioural risk factors and these include:

  1. Tobacco use which is one of the most serious health risks globally, causing more than 70% of lung cancers, 40% of chronic lung diseases, and 10% cardiovascular diseases. In the African region, the prevalence of daily tobacco use among adults ranged from 5% to 26% (12% across the Region). Fortunately, some achievements have been made in the region with Botswana being the first country to introduce an additional levy on all tobacco products.

2. The harmful use of alcohol which most people consume for one reason or another.
3. A poor diet especially in Africa where some people are malnourished as a result of poverty and low income.
4. Low levels of physical activity within the region that have seen us being ranked worldwide as having the highest prevalence of hypertension, with about 46% of adults having high blood pressure.
Overall, there needs to be a paradigm shift within our beloved region where we become more conscious of the prevalence of NCDs and be bold enough to act on it, such that the alarming stats may decrease and we live long, healthy lives.

Mr. Bakani is a second year student at the University of Zimbabwe and has an interest in Public Health issues. He also serves as the Student Exchange Officer for the Zimbabwe Pharmaceutical Students Association.
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