The number of lives claimed by communicable diseases nationwide fell by 12 percentage points in 2020, the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) has said. A communicable disease is one that is spread from one person to another through a variety of ways including contact with blood and bodily fluids; breathing in an airborne virus or by being bitten by an insect. Examples include tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS among others. The figures are contained in the Rwanda Vital Statistics Report 2020 produced mainly to showcase the progress made by the country in improving civil registration that can be used as a tool to inform policies and decisions and as a guide for strategic interventions. The numbers The report indicates that although a total of 32,609 people (22,634 men and 9,975 women) passed away as a result of different factors in 2020, the causes of death are dominated by communicable diseases at 62.3 per cent down from 70 per cent in 2019. However, the number of those who lost their lives due to non-communicable diseases went up from 27.9 per cent to 34.7 per cent. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, are not passed from person to person. They include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal diseases and mental disorders. At the early stages of life (below 50), most death causes are due to the group of communicable diseases while the group of non-communicable diseases takes over after the age of 55 for males and age 50 for females. The report calls for enhanced public health policies for the prevention and management of diseases responsible for high mortality in specific population groups. The Coordinator Community Based Environmental Health Promotion Program (CBEHPP), Zacharie Rugaravu, said that the improvement is a testimony that most of the diseases attended to at health facilities can be prevented through improved hygiene behaviour and sanitation. “The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that the masses were constantly required to wash their hands. Most of these diseases come from what we touch with our hands and whether we wash them after or not,” he explained. Rugaravu said that with the second wave that came with a variant in countries like the UK, India and South Africa, most Rwandans further improved their hygiene and the figures related to non-communicable diseases could improve further this year. He also touched on social distancing and the closure of bars which he attributed to this improvement. “The fact that people don’t congregate means that the HIV numbers also went down. It means that they don’t go to bars to eat and contract some of the diseases that come with unsanitary kitchens. The numbers are likely to even get better this year,” he said. He called on Rwandans to continue with what has now become a ‘tradition’ to constantly consider hygiene in everything even after the pandemic passes. The number of deaths due to non-communicable diseases may also be related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Joseph Mucumbitsi, a cardiologist and the president of Rwanda Heart Foundation, who also heads Non Communicable Disease (NCD) Alliance, told this publication that all people living with NCDs are at higher risk of getting Covid-19, due to their low immune system. He says studies have shown that having diabetes, for instance, will make it harder for the immune system to resist the Covid-19 infection. He says these particular patients are not only at risk of getting this virus, but also more at risk of having severe symptoms and complications. “People over 60 should protect themselves from any contact with other people to avoid being contaminated with the virus, as they are at higher risk of getting it than younger people,” he advises. Mucumbitsi recommends consuming healthy foods in order to help boost the immune system. He reminded of the value of physical exercises recommending at least 30 minutes a day for adults and an hour for younger people.