East African countries have called for more action in preventing and treating non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The call was made in Kigali at a two-day workshop on NCDs, which brought together different stakeholders from civil society and government representatives as well as parliamentarians from East African countries.
It was organised by the East African NCD Alliance (EANDA).
According to Christina Parsons Perez, capacity development director at the Alliance, governments need to take NCDs as a serious threat and intergrate them in different development plans for better prevention and treatment.
“For instance, the commitment can make the pace for the implementation of taxing unhealthy commodities, such as alcohol, tobacco, unhealthy foods and drinks, and the allocation of taxes to the prevention, management and control of NCDs as well as putting people living with NCDs at the fore front making sure that they get access to the needed care,” she said on the sidelines of the Saturday meeting.
The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba, said there is need for more efforts to help people to protect themselves against NCDs, because of high costs of treatment when one is affected.
Cautioning against poor lifestyles, the minister called for more sensitisation campaigns to educate people about the dangers of eating sugary products, tobacco, oil, beer among other unhealthy lifestyles.
“We are also partnering with the education ministry so that awareness starts early among children, so they can grow up with knowledge about recommended food and beverages. Doing sport; adopting good diet without much oil and alcoholic drinks does not cost anything,” she noted.
She said programmes such as car-free-day where people do sport twice a month and other programmes integrated in hospitals and different institutions will help prevent non-communicable diseases.
“We want the 16 per cent of national budget allocated to health sector to be well exploited so that the efforts in prevention and treatment of the non-communicable diseases bear better fruits,” Gashumba added.
The workshop was held ahead of an upcoming UN third high-level meeting on the prevention and control of NCDs due later this year. It is expected to undertake a comprehensive review of the global and national progress achieved in putting measures in place that protect people from dying too young from heart and lung diseases, cancers and diabetes.
Despite the progress made in prevention, the number of deaths caused by NCDs in East Africa has been on the rise and the governments have made slow progress on meeting some commitments made at the 2014 UN High Level meeting on NCDs, according to Perez.
“The African region will experience the most deaths unless measures are put in place to mitigate the same,” she said.
Dr Crispin Gishoma, the Director, Rwanda NCD Alliance, said that in Rwanda three per cent of the population live with diabetes, 12 per cent live with hypertension, which is among the most dangerous diseases.
“If no more efforts are made, the figures will continue increasing over time. For instance, 20 years ago, diabetes was at 2 per cent and lately it has reached 3 per cent. What is needed is to raise awareness about NCDs, which is the only way to reduce the prevalence,” he added.
NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, injuries, mental health and neurological conditions, have major impacts on the health and economies of nations.