The rising burden of non-communicable diseases in Africa is a wakeup call for governments, funders and industry to design bold strategies that prioritize early diagnosis and access to quality therapeutics for patients in order to stem fatalities, an expert said on Thursday.
Emmanuel Mensah, the West Africa Regional Lead for the Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries (NCDI) Poverty Network, decried their spike in the continent, citing sedentary lifestyles, smoking and poor dietary habits as key triggers.
According to Mensah, Africa was in a vantage position to reduce the burden of cancer, diabetes, hypertension and chronic respiratory infections once governments prioritized awareness, training of health workers, investments in diagnostic facilities and case management.
“The burden of non-communicable diseases including type one diabetes, sickle cell anemia and hypertension is rising in Sub-Saharan Africa. We need to deliver quality care to the most vulnerable,” Mensah remarked during a virtual interview with Xinhua.
An ambitious strategy to revitalize action on noncommunicable diseases called PEN-PLUS was adopted by health ministers attending the 72nd session of the World Health Organization (WHO) regional committee for Africa held on Aug. 23 in Lome, the capital of Togo.
Mensah said the strategy will focus on strengthening the capacity of local hospitals and health workers to diagnose and manage severe noncommunicable diseases and avert deaths.
PEN PLUS aims to ensure the rural poor with severe heart ailments, diabetes and sickle cell anemia have access to timely, affordable and quality treatment, said Mensah, adding that its implementation across Sub-Saharan Africa will aid in updating data on the magnitude of lifestyle diseases, to inform policy and biomedical interventions.
The PEN PLUS strategy has already been integrated into the health policies of Malawi and Rwanda, and its expansion to eight additional African countries is expected to boost case identification, treatment and psychosocial support for patients with severe forms of noncommunicable diseases, said Mensah.
Statistics from the WHO indicate that noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular ailments were responsible for 37 percent of deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2019, up from 24 percent in 2000.
Gina Agiostratidou, program director for international health charity, the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) Program, said that strategic partnerships combined with robust funding, enabling policy environment and awareness at the grassroots are key to strengthening the response to noncommunicable diseases in Africa.