NCDs emerging as major obstacle to development in Africa
Long considered diseases of the West and often associated with the urban and affluent in society, NCDs have crept silently into many corners in Africa, remaining relatively unnoticed as governments and the international community focus on combating communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, polio and HIV/AIDS, The Herald reports.
Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) are now the leading cause of death in most regions of the world, accounting for up to 70% of all deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 2012, for example, the diseases killed 38 million people, of whom 80% were from developing countries, including those in Africa. About half of these people died prematurely–before the age of 70.
Four key risk factors
The four key risk factors for these diseases are unhealthy diets (foods high in fats, sugar or salt), tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity.
These behaviours set the stage for later development of lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, overweight, respiratory diseases, high blood sugar and high cholesterol levels.
It is during adolescence or adulthood that these risky behaviours are typically established, experts say, and they are easily modifiable. Millions of lives could be saved by healthy diets, exercise and the avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.
Africa, home to 54 low and middle-income countries, will have the world’s largest increase in NCD deaths over the next decade. Although communicable diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS and other conditions still predominate in sub-Saharan Africa, WHO projects that, by 2030, NCDs will become the leading cause of death. This would impose a significant burden on the continent, whose population will double within the next generation.
The effects of NCDs are as devastating to the economy as they are to the people they afflict. At the national level, they impede efforts to fight poverty, making it difficult to achieve global development goals such as the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number three, which aims to ensure healthy lives and to promote the well-being of all people.
At a broader level, widespread chronic illness translates into decreased labour outputs, lower returns on human capital investments and increased health care costs.
Alcohol, one major risk factor – and in some African countries the leading risk factor for NCDs – poses massive problems. Aggressive marketing in African countries by the alcohol industry and the portrayal of alcohol use as “cool” in many colourful advertisements, along with its easy accessibility, have exposed more youths.
About 26% of boys and 21% of girls aged 13 to 15 in Namibia are current alcohol users. In Mauritius, 21% of boys and 14 % of girls in secondary school reported having been intoxicated one or more times during their life.