Research Shows Higher Risks of Developing NCDs in Africa


Martins Ifijeh with Agency Reports

With millions of people in Africa predicted to die from Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) by 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO), African Region, has supported countries to carry out surveys to identify the main causes of this rising trend.

According to a report released by the WHO, that consolidates available data, these impending threats can be predicted 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 II diabetes and chronic obstructive lung disease.

The burden of illness, which has been gradually increasing over the past decade, will likely surpass the toll of sickness and death from infectious diseases by 2030.

“Worldwide, deaths from NCDs will reach an estimated 44 million within the next four years, an increase of 15 per cent from WHO’s 2010 estimate. 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 WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.

“What this reports serves to highlight, however, is that amidst these emergencies, we cannot lose sight of the enormous health dangers posed by noncommunicable diseases, especially since many of these can be prevented through changes in behaviour and lifestyle.

“Prevention of NCDs relies heavily on avoidance of four major behavioral risk factors: tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, a poor diet (not consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables daily), and low levels of physical activity. In half of the African countries surveyed, one-quarter of adults had at least three of these risk factors, raising the probability that they will become ill with one or more of these conditions during the course of their lives. Most of these adults were likely to be female between the ages of 45-64,” he added.

Dr. Moeti notes that these were diseases that can be life-threatening as well as debilitating, and they place a significant hardship on the region, robbing people and families of those who otherwise should be enjoying their most productive years.

According to the acting Director, WHO’s NCD cluster, Dr. Abdikamal Alisalad, he notes the prevalence of hypertension, or high blood pressure in the African region was the highest worldwide, affecting an estimated 46 per cent of adults.

“In half of the countries in the African region, at least one in three adults was found to be hypertensive. 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.

“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,” Alisalad added.

Other key findings from the report indicate that tobacco use was one of the most serious health risks globally, causing more than 70 per cent of lung cancers, 40 per cent of chronic lung diseases, and 10 per cent cardiovascular diseases.