The Minister of State in Charge of Primary Health Care, Dr Tharcisse Mpunga has said that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 44 per cent of all deaths in Rwanda but a big number of them can be prevented. He was speaking during the opening session of the regional NCDs Conference at Kigali Marriott Hotel on November 24. The conference which will run until November 25 gathered over 500 participants including policy makers, non-governmental organizations, advocates, academia, physicians as well private sector players under the theme “Shaping an East Africa free of NCDs through people-centered interventions and transformative development.” Dr Mpunga noted that NCDs when combined with injuries and disabilities account for 58 percent of total annual mortality in Rwanda, declaring that however, they can be prevented by both primary healthcare as well as universal approaches, that require everyone to play their roles. He said that in Rwanda, the NCDs services are provided at the community level; from Community Health Workers (CHWs), health centres as well as hospitals, adding that the country has built the capacity of the health personnel so that they can offer counselling and screening services and direct people to access advanced health care and support. In health centres, there are trained nurses who screen for NCDs including diabetes, hypertension and cancers so that diagnosed people can access treatment and care, he said. Mpunga is aware that medicines for the NCDs are expensive because they are shipped from abroad, declaring that however, there is a plan to help people access them through mutuelle de sante insurance as the government plans to reinforce its capacity. Since the NCDs mostly affect older adults and most Rwandans are youth, it is expected that the number of NCDs patients will increase. Mpunga said the Ministry of Health gears up to prevent Rwandans from being affected at a young age, urging them to avoid consuming toxic products such as tobacco, alcohol and junk food and to exercise regularly as one of the proven ways to strengthen the immunity of a human’s body. Globally, NCDs kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 74 per cent of all deaths globally. Each year, 17 million people die from a NCD before age 70 and 86 per cent of these premature deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Cristina Parsons Perez, Capacity Development Director at the NCD Alliance said that NCDs pose a serious problem for societies and is draining the world economy as well as pushing households into poverty, hence it is extremely important for governments to take urgent actions to avoid sleepwalking into a sick future. She highlighted that the WHO has recommended cost-effective interventions to address NCD prevention including taxation of alcohol and tobacco and banning the marketing of junk food to children. Perez also noted that investment is another important point in addressing NCDs, declaring that out of the overseas assistance for health development, only 1 to 2 per cent is allocated to NCDs, hence there is a need for it to be increased and for the government to prioritise investment in health and NCDs. Prof Joseph Mucumbitsi, Chairperson of Rwanda NCD Alliance declared that it is essential to put more effort into raising community awareness on the prevention of NCDs and the need for early diagnosis, adding that regional governments also need to combine efforts in fighting the diseases, helping those that are already affected to access treatment and care. Mucumbitsi also noted that there is a need to consider having local industries that manufacture the medicines for NCDs and for regional countries to match their regulations so that they can place orders together, reducing the price of shipping. Odda Musabimana, 62, has been living with breast cancer for 19 years, 10 years with hypertension and 7 with diabetes and is accessing treatment and care. She urged the government to put more effort into increasing awareness around the NCDs, including breast cancer, so that they can go for screening and know their stand at an early stage and remove the stigma around cancer.