NCDs: The dormant killers lurking within

Nothando Fruhwirth, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
Luis (name changed) was suddenly beset with a constant pain in his chest and weakness, that made it impossible for him to work or function in the day. This onset of illness was a shock to him as he had been duly undergoing his regular medical check ups and had been given the clean bill of health. The routine stipulated HIV test, amongst other tests, was conducted to ensure that like so many others he was not infected with the virus. HIV is identified as the root cause of deaths amongst individuals— young and old. Due to public and media outcry within communities, there is global awareness about HIV, encouraging nations to come together to battle the deadly virus.

While all efforts were concentrated to battle the infectious diseases, a a silent killer with many tentacles grew up by leaps and bounds, uprooting the lives of the young and old alike. As Luis found out the hard way, the sudden chest pains and faint hearted feelings were due to a deep rooted disease that spread quietly and constricted his heart.

The onslaught of this heart disease was a result of misinformation and lack of focus on other areas of the health challenges faced today. NCDs, like heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes and asthma, to name a few,  are becoming more apparent in this day and age. A report by the WHO says that NCDs account for approximately 40 million deaths each year, which is 70% of all deaths globally. This scary statistics has indeed created more awareness around these diseases, but they have not yet got the attention they merit.

Nomsa (name changed) shared that she spent a lot of money trying to determine why her mother was deteriorating. She had been a healthy, well rounded independent woman but began to lose an excessive amount of weight in 2013 and became quite ill. Nomsa was sure her mother had the dreaded HIV virus and immediately took her to the hospital where she tested negative for HIV. She then procured the services of a private doctor, only to be told that her mother had diabetics. The cost, of acquiring the medication and visiting the doctor on a regular basis, drained her family financially and affected the quality of life they were used to.

In developing countries that are plagued by social, economic, and health challenges, the consequences of NCDs are huge because of the burden associated with healthcare costs and lost economic productivity due to illness and premature deaths. In addition, the prevalence of risk factors like the excessive abuse of tobacco, alcohol, poor diet and lack of physical activity makes more people susceptible to igniting the life of the dormant killers within. A larger plan has to be laid down to aid in the prevention and control of NCDs. This has to include a worldwide response which will reverberate to smaller communities as the problem is more apparent in low and middle income households. Other problematic factors include a lack of mismanagement of resources, lack of education, and extreme levels of poverty. The economies of most countries are on a downward slide due to corruption and mismanagement of resources— a major contributor to the already fragile social, economic and political environment.

Cristina Parson Perez, Capacity Development Director, NCD Alliance, stresses that countries need strategic national plans to control NCDs. Policies must be designed to encourage people to make healthy lifestyle choices, and to promote health literacy in order to detect any health issues early on.

Dr Ehsan Latif, Senior Advisor (NCDs), International Union Against TB and Lung Disease (The Union) concedes that climate change plays a major role in  aggravating NCDs. So it is important to engage climate change stakeholders in NCDs related advocacy. If more health institutions focused on having more campaigns on the wellbeing and health of the human body, people will become more educated. If governments took more action and provided more funds to provide better and cheaper healthcare services for all, a decline in mortality related to NCDs diseases might be possible.

NCDs are a predominant health challenge today. Yet, there still is a lot of misinformation in the general public, and more importance is given in the national health policies for control of HIV and infectious diseases. Strategies and goals have to be laid out to create the foundations to ensure that there is more public awareness around NCDs. All countries can benefit by sharing experience and pooling expertise for their prevention and control.

Nothando Fruhwirth, Citizen News Service - CNS
July 10, 2017