Eighty-five per cent of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) can be prevented. This was revealed during a recent mutual capacity building training for media and advocates in Kigali. Prof Joseph Mucumbitsi, a paediatrician and cardiologist who heads NCD Alliance in Rwanda, says there is so much people can do to prevent non-communicable diseases. This requires more measures to raise awareness about non-communicable diseases. He says that in Rwanda, 42 per cent of deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, while other deaths caused by communicable diseases and others take 44 per cent. “Non-communicable diseases kill many people compared to others. It is even the same situation in other countries. Heart diseases are at the top of with 10.7 million worldwide every year,” he says. This is followed by respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes. All these big four non-communicable diseases are claiming lives of people everywhere, even in Rwanda, Mucumbitsi says. “We have visual impairment, blindness, among many other non-communicable diseases. NCDs affect people for a long time and are costly in terms of treatment. They lead families into poverty and affect national economy,” he says. He quotes that the cost of these diseases on world economy is higher than all other disasters. However, he says that over 80 per cent of all those NCDs can be prevented, and that it only requires changing lifestyle and behaviour. “This is why we have to join efforts in educating people on how to live healthy lives,” he says. The causes and prevention People should avoid smoking and alcoholic beverages to keep NCDs at bay. Avoid salt, especially uncooked. Turn to oil from plants than the processed from animals, Mucumbitsi advises. Avoid sugar and eating more fruits and vegetables. “A person should eat fruits and vegetables every day,” he notes. It was observed that people in urban areas are more affected by non-communicable diseases due to lack of physical exercise and eating food that leads to NCDs. “A person is required to do 30 minutes of exercise per day,” he says. Experts say smoke from wood and charcoal burning in a confined place without enough ventilation can cause respiratory and heart diseases. Every year, more than three million Rwandans suffer from respiratory problems, of which 13 per cent is caused by air pollution, according to the analysis conducted in 2017 in different health facilities in the country by the Ministry of Health. Highly-processed foods and sugary beverages contribute to overweight and obesity, which are associated with the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and several types of cancer. / Net photo Deaths attributed to poor air quality in 2017 reached 12,000. 9,040 deaths out of 12,000 were due to indoor air pollution and 2,960 due to outside air pollution. One out of four people is affected by respiratory diseases every year and they are mostly caused by cooking with firewood, charcoal, petrol, fuel and ambient air pollution. “The air we breathe from the atmosphere, in general, is polluted. That is why car-free day is there to reduce air pollution from vehicles, but also, for physical exercise to prevent NCDs,” says Mucumbitsi. About diabetes François Gishoma, the chairperson of Rwanda Diabetes Association, says that people can prevent diabetes while those who are already affected can adopt good lifestyles to live long without further complications. “People should do check-ups quite often to check if they are healthy. In terms of prevention of diabetes, sticking to a healthy lifestyle is important,” he says. He adds that education is paramount in the prevention of non-communicable diseases. Simon-Pierre Niyonsenga, Director of Diabetes at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), notes that they are devising more measures that will use all communication channels to educate the community about causes and prevention of non-communicable diseases. He adds that the fight against NCDs has been integrated in districts performance contracts this year, with the aim to increase citizens’ knowledge about the diseases. At least three per cent in Rwanda have diabetes and that is about one in thirty people. There are three types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, with a prevalence of more than 90 per cent among all types of diabetes is characterised by the body being unable to metabolise sugar, which leads to high levels of blood glucose. Type 1 diabetes, which is sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes is commonly diagnosed in children. This type is an autoimmune disease that causes the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas to be destroyed. Gestational diabetes, which is the third type of diabetes, occurs when one has high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes typically disappears after the baby is born. About cancer An estimated 10,704 new cancer cases involving 4,520 males and 6,184 females were recorded in 2018 according to available figures from Rwanda Biomedical Centre. At least 8,200 new cancer cases were recorded in 2017 which increased to over 10,700 new cancer cases in 2018. Of the recorded cases, breast and cervical cancers are the most common in women, while prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and colorectal cancer comes in the third place. Others include stomach cancer, liver cancer, and others. Some cancers are preventable since the risk factors are modifiable. For instance, experts note that people can avoid tobacco, beer, obesity but others are not preventable because some cancers might be hereditary in families. The main challenges that are still leading to cancer-related deaths include; lack of people’s knowledge about the disease, low participation in the medical check-up and limited financial capacity for those who need treatment.