Thursday April 3 2014

We can make simple changes to prevent lifestyle diseases

By Rose N. Namayanja

People live more than a decade longer on average today than they did in 1970s, but spend much of these boom years battling diseases like cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Uganda is currently experiencing dual epidemics of communicable and non-communicable diseases. The changing lifestyles have resulted in an increase in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases like many cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic respiratory diseases and many more.

According to medical sources, a non-communicable disease (NDC) is a medical condition or disease which is non-infectious and non-transmissible among people. NCDs may be chronic diseases of long duration and slow progression, or they may result in more rapid death such as some types of sudden stroke.

These diseases have sometimes been incorrectly referred to as synonymous with chronic diseases. It should, however, be noted that NCDs are distinguished only by their non-infectious cause, not necessarily by their duration.

Referred to as “lifestyle diseases”, because the majority of them are preventable illnesses, the most common causes for NCDs include among others: tobacco smoking, exposure to tobacco smoke-commonly known as passive smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diets and physical inactivity.

The increasing urbanisation and changing trends in lifestyles are exposing most of the population to unhealthy lifestyles and this is immensely contributing to the rising occurrences of NCDs.

An important way to reduce NCDs is to focus on lessening the risk factors associated with these diseases. Low-cost solutions exist to reduce the common modifiable risk factors, mainly tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, and the harmful use of alcohol.

Embracing a primary health-care approach in our lives will also help to strengthen early detection and timely treatment.

Focusing on preventive measures is a far much better approach than battling the after effects of the NCDs, which range from household resource drain to health drain.

Incidentally, healthcare costs for these diseases are far much higher than ordinary diseases given the nature of their complexity. People suffering from NCDs in most cases are rendered vulnerable and, therefore, become less productive in the society. The exorbitant costs of NCDs, including often lengthy and expensive treatment and loss of breadwinners, are forcing millions of people into poverty annually, stifling development
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs kill more than 36 million people each year worldwide, a number that by some estimates is expected to rise by 17–24 per cent within the next decade, and nearly 80 per cent of the NDC deaths occur in low and middle income countries.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that 25 per cent of adults have hypertension, three to eight per cent diabetes while 300 per 100,000 of the population have cancer.

Incidentally, NCDs, which in the past were thought to be diseases of the elderly, now affect people of all ages, including children. There is dire need to protect the young generation from these preventable epidemics so we can have a healthy population that is productive. It is this productive population that will steer the development of the country.

The Government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Health, is giving due attention to non-communicable diseases aimed at averting and dealing with their detrimental effects already in existence among the population.

The government, in the financial year 2006/07, established the Non-Communicable Disease Programme to plan, coordinate and implement actions aimed at preventing and controlling NCDs in Uganda. The NCD programme aims at reducing morbidity and mortality attributable to NCDs through appropriate interventions.

In 2012, the Government of Uganda also launched the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination against cervical cancer and has since rolled it out to 14 districts. Government has also increased cervical cancer screening centres.

Government has further embarked on a massive awareness campaign on the prevention and control of NCDs through a multiplicity of approaches. One of the key approaches is joining the rest of the world in commemorating major NCDs ‘world days’ to raise awareness such as the World Cancer Day, which was held in Sheema District, World Diabetes Day in Tororo, World Heart Day in Kampala, World Health Day in Budaka, and World Sickle Cell Day in Luwero.

The government appeals to all Ugandans to collectively make deliberate efforts and fight non-communicable diseases through adhering to the control and preventive measures, by guarding against unhealthy lifestyles so that we do not fall prey to these ‘lifestyle’ diseases.

The population should take responsibility of visiting health units for general medical check up since NCDs in most cases manifest at a late stage. Let us live not only longer, but healthier as well.

Ms Namayanja is the Minister of Information and National Guidance.