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WHO warns of high rise in NCDs in Africa

By Kemo Cham

At the present rate of spread of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Africa, deaths from them are likely to surpass those from infectious diseases by 2030, a new research has revealed.

The research estimates that deaths from NCDs will reach 44 million within the next four years, representing an increase of 15 percent from 2010 figures.

The findings were the result of a World Health Organisation (WHO) funded research, conducted at national level, which sought to identify the main causes of the rising trend in NCDs in the Africa Region. It shows that these impending threats are predictable because most adults in Africa have at least one risk factor that increases their chances of developing a life threatening NCD, including heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic obstructive lung disease.

The prevalence of hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, on the continent is said to be the highest all over the world.

32 countries were surveyed as part of the study, with data drawn from WHO Stepwise surveys and the Global School-based student health surveys in a select few countries.      

An estimated 46 percent of adults were found to be affected by hypertension, according to the report which also reveals that in at least half of the countries in the region, at least one in three adults were found to be hypertensive.

A WHO official described the high rates of hypertension as “worrisome”, noting that the disease was a ‘silent killer’ as most people are often unaware of their condition until it’s too late.

With hypertension, a patient’s heart is damaged, 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 others.

Hypertension is however treatable through medication and change in lifestyles.   

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said while much of the world’s attention and resources have recently been directed toward the immediate threat posed by infectious diseases caused by emerging viruses like Zika and Ebola, it was equally important that focus was placed on NCDs as well.

“What this report serves to highlight…is that amidst these emergences 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,” she said.

Tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as poor dietary habit and lack of physical exercise are thought to be among the leading causes of NCDs. Among these tobacco is singled out among the top most health risks globally, accounting for over 70 percent of lung cancer, 40 percent of chronic lung diseases, and 10 percent of cardiovascular diseases.

Lack of adequate fruits and vegetables in the diet of Africans is responsible for about 14 percent of death from gastrointestinal cancer and about 10 percent of ischemic heart disease and stroke, according to WHO.

“While the consequences of such unhealthy diets are greatest in other WHO regions, Sub Saharan Africa paradoxically is the only WHO region suffering from the double burden of under-nutrition and obesity,” a WHO statement announcing the outcome of the study notes.

Experts say the rate of NCD rise can be halted through lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, drinking in moderation, taking in adequate vegetables and fruits, as well as regular physical activities.       

(C) Politico 22/12/16