As attention turns to viruses including Zika and Ebola, the World Health Organisation warns diseases like diabetes will pose a bigger threat by 2030.
More people in Africa will die from diseases such as cancer, heart problems or diabetes than infectious diseases by 2030, according to the World Health Organisation, which found the continent recorded the highest prevalence rates of high blood pressure in the world.
In a report published on Tuesday, the WHO warns that the number of deaths globally from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is set to increase by at least 15% from the organisation’s 2010 estimates, and that 44 million people will die of NCDs over the decade up to 2020, 4 million of those in the African region.
In 2012, infectious diseases accounted for twice as many deaths as NCDs.
Lifestyle and behavioural choices such as smoking, drinking, lack of exercise and unhealthy eating are to blame for increased mortality rates from NCDs, with the WHO study finding that most people in the region have at least one risk factor that predisposes them to disease. One in four have at least three risk factors.
“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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa. “What this reports 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 behaviour and lifestyle.”
Recently, the alarm has been raised in many countries, including Kenya, over the high incidences of cancer, which are compounded by the public health system’s poor capacity to manage what Kenyan media have labelled “the cancer crisis”.
The report studied the lifestyles of people across 33 sub-Saharan countries, and found that daily tobacco use, which has been closely linked to cancer and heart disease, is prevalent in one out of 10 adults in the region. Use of tobacco was 10 times higher among men than women. An increasing number of schoolchildren were also found to be using tobacco, said the report. About 17% of the students in Seychelles admitted using tobacco in the past 12 months.
The same patterns were observed when it came to alcohol consumption, with the Seychelles having the highest number of drinkers, at 87%. Seychelles also had the highest number of young drinkers, with the report finding that 62% of students had consumed alcohol one or more times in the previous 30 days.
Healthy eating was also poor across the continent, where most people did not meet the WHO recommended standards of five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. This has led to the region being the only one in the world to carry the double burden of malnutrition and obesity.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, was found to be the biggest killer worldwide, with the report stating that it was responsible for 45% of deaths resulting from heart failure and 50% of all strokes. The WHO estimates that 46% of adults in the region are hypertensive, recording the highest rate worldwide.
“The high rates of hypertension are particularly worrisome, as hypertension is a silent killer, with most people unaware of their condition until it is too late,’’ said Dr Abdikamal Alisalad, acting director of WHO’s NCD cluster. “High blood pressure can damage the heart, leading to heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and fatty buildup in the arteries, causing them to harden. It also can contribute to stroke, kidney damage and vision loss, among other things. At the same time, hypertension can be successfully treated through lifestyle changes and medication.”
The report is based on data collected over a number of years from the WHO Stepwise surveys from 33 sub-Saharan countries and global school-based health surveys from 19 countries.
The sustainable development goals, launched amid great fanfare in New York a year ago, saw 193 countries commit to 17 ambitious goals to alleviate poverty and bring about development even in the poorest of countries, with goal 3.4 specifically pledging to “reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases”. Goal 3.5 recognised the particularly damaging effects of tobacco on public health and committed to “strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control in all countries, as appropriate”.
(Source: The guardian)