Fighting Non-Communicable Diseases in Africa

 Diseases in Africa
Communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are still the biggest health concerns in Africa. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by 2030, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will become the leading cause of death in Africa. Currently, only two percent of all donor funding goes to chronic diseases. NCDs in Africa is an issue that deserves more attention.

Non-communicable diseases in Africa include diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. These diseases often stem from unhealthy lifestyles, like diet, smoking, drinking and physical inactivity. These behaviors can cause high blood pressure, weight gain, respiratory ailments, high blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

NCDs are already the leading cause of death in most regions of the world. These diseases cause the deaths of 38 million people each year and almost three-quarters of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. Projections show that NCDs in Africa will see the biggest growth globally in the next few decades.

Widespread chronic illness is detrimental to the economy and poverty reduction initiatives in developing countries because they result in decreased labor outputs, lower returns on human capital investments and increased healthcare costs. Non-communicable diseases should thus be afforded more attention in discussions about alleviating global poverty.

There are several initiatives working to address the issue of NCDs and the impact they will have on developing countries. The WHO created a Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, which focuses on national actions to address harmful lifestyle choices that cause NCDs. This includes the taxation of tobacco and alcohol products and targets education programs on healthy living.

However, the increase in cases of non-communicable diseases in Africa will also require more resources to strengthen and adapt healthcare systems to deal with the growing disease burden. In 2014, only 49% of African countries reported that they have the necessary funds for the early detection, screening and treatment of NCDs.

One program working to solve this issue is Access Accelerated, a partnership between the World Bank, the Union of International Cancer Control and more than 20 pharmaceutical companies. The Access Accelerated initiative aims to address the access barriers to NCD medicines in low-income countries. Novartis Access, for example, is providing 15 NCD treatments in Kenya at $1.00 per treatment per month. This program will roll out in 30 other developing countries over the next few years.

Providing affordable medicines is just one of the aspects of creating sustainable solutions to the growing burden of non-communicable diseases in Africa. Other priorities include training healthcare workers to deal with NCDs, educating local communities about these diseases and improving healthcare infrastructure and distribution networks in rural areas.

Helena Kamper

Photo: Flickr