Medical experts have linked the apparent increase in Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) to growing abuse of alcohol and tobacco.
According to Jean De Dieu Nyirabega, the deputy director general in charge of disease prevention and control at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), rising incident of NCDs can be attributed to increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy foods.
He said that a recent survey revealed that 60% of men above the age of 25 drink alcohol, 7 percent of people between 15 and 25 years use tobacco, yet a very small number eat fruits and vegetables regularly.
An NCD is a medical condition or disease which by definition 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. They include heart disease, stroke, most cancers, asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cataracts, among others.
The most prevalent are hypertension, asthma, diabetes, and cancer.
“Although no recent national survey has been done to indicate increase in prevalence. Reports from individual hospitals show that that NCD cases are increasing,” he said.
This year’s report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Rwanda office shows that the probability of dying between ages 30 and 70 years from the four main NCDs is 19 percent, adding that they are estimated to account for 36 percent of total deaths.
According to Dr Theophile Dushime, the director of clinical services at the health ministry, while Rwanda had succeeded in fighting ailments like malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition, a lot needs to be done to counter increasing NCD cases such as cancer.
“Life expectancy now stands at 66, two years ago it was at 63, so as people live longer, we expect to face more of such diseases,” he observed.
WHO 2013 statistics show that NCDs kill more than 36 million people each year.
Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17.3 million people annually, followed by cancers (7.6 million), respiratory diseases (4.2 million), and diabetes (1.3 million).
Juliet Uwamariya, 45, a mother of two and a resident of Kicukiro sector, Kigali, first developed a lump in her breast and a milky discharge in 2011. A diagnosis at a local private hospital showed she had breast cancer and underwent surgery, she felt better thereafter.
A year later she developed bone pain, nausea, loss of appetite and weight loss. And another diagnosis showed the cancer had come back and was spreading.
Her doctors referred her to India for more advanced treatment, and that meant parting with about $30,000.
“To me it sounded like an outright death sentence, since a small retail shop is all I owned, I could not raise the money,” Uwamariya noted.
After weeks of confinement to her bed at home as a result sickness and depression. Family and friends at last managed to raise the money and went for treatment in India.
“Cancer treatment itself is an ugly experience, for instance your hair will start to fall off as a result of chemotherapy,” shared the lady who spent 6 months on treatment.
Uwamariya says that there is need for a fully fledged cancer centre locally that offers treatments like radiation.
“If I did not have relatives who were financially able, maybe I would be dead now because there was no such care here,” she remarked.