By Achol Daniel
Currently, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are the world’s biggest killers.
More than 41 million people die annually from NCDs (71% of global deaths), including more than 15 million people who die young between the ages of 30 and 69.
Developing countries already bear 86% of the burden of these premature deaths, resulting in cumulative economic losses of US$7 trillion over the next 15 years yet millions of people are still trapped in poverty. It’s been over the last 20 years that the growing threat of non-communicable diseases has been taken serious in developing countries.
In Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) has responded with a number of policies i.e. WHO Strategy on Non-Communicable Diseases and the Brazzaville Declaration among others. In Uganda, the Ministry of Health (MOH) established a Programme for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases in 2006.
In 2019, MOH launched the Non-Communicable Diseases and Injuries Commission and efforts on prevention through creating awareness of risk factors and asking people to adjust their lifestyles and diets.
But these policies and other initiatives developed haven’t effectively addressed the increase in non-communicable diseases. Studies show that NCDs are gaining momentum among the top causes of deaths in Uganda.
According to World Health Organization, the four major NCDs reportedly kill about 100,000 people annually which is 35% of the total annual deaths in Uganda. Also, the probability of dying between the age of 30 and 70 due the major NCDs is 22% in Uganda (the highest in the East African Region). If the current situation continues, then Uganda won’t attain the Sustainable Development Goals of reducing NCD death by 30% by 2030.
Whereas Uganda has good integrated diseases surveillance, health information and management system, lack of research that deals specifically with local conditions of NCDs is one of the biggest gaps that needs to be addressed in the fight against NCDs.
It is important to note that, although global initiatives, policies, actions on NCDs based on United Nations summits in 2011, 2014 and 2018 have led to a reduction of NCD cases in developed countries, however, the situation isn’t the same in Sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the arguments for this is, lack of local relevant research that would provide knowledge on how contextualize prevention and control measures developed in other parts of the world and make them effective and efficient for Uganda’s setting and Africa in general.
Moreover, majority of the interventions to prevent and control NCDs have been developed based on western populations and hence require some adaptations to work in other settings.
For example, coronary heart diseases are predominant in western countries while cerebrovascular diseases are predominant in Africa whereas dietary patterns and physical habits differ substantially across populations.
So what needs to be done is establishing a dedicated research unit that specifically looks at prevention, detection and control of the four major NCDs in Uganda. This unit would also be crucial in developing a critical mass of researchers who can conduct full scope research needed to inform NCDs prevention and control strategies.
Ultimately, collaboration among researchers with health provider, policy makers and other stakeholders including capacity development will be crucial in ensuring that gains from investing in research improve the uptake and incorporation of the research findings in national guidelines, initiatives, action plans and policy documents on non-communicable diseases.
The writer works with Uganda Debt Network