Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) are currently the leading cause of death in most countries. Deaths from NCDs have been rising in recent years and the World Health Organization has projected that the greatest increase in disease and death from NCDs over the next decade will come from the African region. In fact, NCDs are projected to surpass communicable, maternal, nutritional, and perinatal disease as the most common causes of death by the year 2030.
We need to implement a more forceful campaign against this growing epidemic. Policies and programs are needed without delay to prevent future rises in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke among Africans and other people around the world. These diseases bear significant costs to individuals, families, governments and health systems.
Common risk factors for NCDs include physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco, along with poor diet. In Africa, these causes are exacerbated by lack of existing programs to educate and promote healthy behavior and healthy lifestyles. Diets are shifting to processed foods that are higher in fat and sugar. More inactive forms of employment and even lack of proper clothing and equipment lead to sedentary behavior that contributes to health problems.
Tobacco use, which causes approximately six million deaths each year, is an easily preventable cause of NCDs.
Recently, we launched the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa, located in Kampala, Uganda, as part of the campaign against tobacco and its harmful effects. The Centre is hosted by a consortium led by Makerere University's School of Public Health in Kampala, Uganda, and is funded through a grant to WHO from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This Centre will support healthy, tobacco-free lifestyles, especially among young people, by building networks, training stakeholders and providing technical assistance to partners. The World Health Organization has reported that up to 22% of 13-15 year olds in the region are already using tobacco products, which greatly increases their chances of developing illness associated with tobacco use.
Globally, implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (including measures such as raising taxes on tobacco, banning tobacco advertising and curbing smoking in public places) will save lives and ease strain on health systems around the world.
These initiatives are just part of a needed comprehensive approach to address prevention and treatment interventions. Governments and stakeholders should work together in stopping the inappropriate marketing of unhealthy food and non-alcoholic beverages to children as well providing access to physical activity programs and nutrition education. Vaccinations, early screenings, and increased access to preventative care should also be considered essential to the fight for a healthier population.
The NCD epidemic will continue to inflict significant damage to society, both socially and economically. There is therefore an urgent need to intervene as Uganda continues to battle infectious diseases and under-nutrition alongside these rising rates of non-communicable diseases.