Time to scale up management of NCDs in Zimbabwe

Locadia Mavhudzi, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
Like many other developing countries, Zimbabwe too is faced by the triple burden of communicable, re-emerging and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  World Health Organization statistics show that an estimated 31% of deaths in Zimbabwe in 2014 were a result of NCDs. However the response and management of these emerging killers remain relatively low and it is time to take urgent action. The rapid rise of NCDs represents one of the major health challenges to sustainable development.

The priority diseases included in the NCD cluster are cardio-vascular diseases (such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular accidents), diabetes, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and mental health. Many of them manifest themselves initially in the form of obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood lipids. Most NCDs share common risk factors of unhealthy diet, smoking, excessive alcohol use, and physical inactivity.

President of Diabetes Association of Zimbabwe Dr John Mangwiro urged that it is high time NCDs are treated as a matter of urgency because they are now killing more people than the traditionally known killer diseases such as HIV and TB. He said that even as 10% people in the country have diabetes, many of them are unaware of their status and remain undiagnosed due to lack of knowledge about the disease. His association is lobbying with the government to provide free access to diabetes medication, as the cost of managing the disease continues to escalate.

According to statistics in Zimbabwe, cardiovascular diseases, like heart attack and strokes account for 9% of deaths from NCDs, while 10% of deaths are due to cancer. Mr Itai Rusike, Executive Director of the Community Working Group on Health, stressed upon the need to increase funding for NCDs as the cost of treatment for most NCDs is beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.

The costs of cancer treatments vary according to the type of cancer its stage at the time of diagnosis. These include  costs for examination, diagnosis, lumpectomy, surgery and chemotherapy/radiotherapy, which run into thousands of dollars with no government subsidies to alleviate the financial burden of the patients.

Cancer Association of Zimbabwe Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Mr Lovemore Makurirofa urged people to be more health conscious. “I would advise people to avoid fast food as much as possible. The recommended portions in a healthy diet are that half the plate should consist of vegetables, a quarter portion should be starch and another quarter should be rich in protein. So if you stick to this diet, you decrease the chances of your having too many calories in your body,” he said.

Dr Cristina Parson Perez, Director Capacity Development at NCD Alliance insisted that there is need to create more networks nationally and internationally that have a shared agenda in response to NCDs, which are causing 70% of the world’s premature deaths.

Perez urged countries to come up with national targets, on which they are expected to report progress at a high level meeting on NCDs to be held in 2018. She highlighted that major challenges facing NCD control across the globe include weak political commitment and limited progress in engaging non health sectors in the management of NCDs.

Dr Perez noted that there is need to amplify dialogue and engagement of people living with NCDs in order to not only raise awareness but also to clarify myths and misconceptions related to NCDs. The shortage of trained healthcare workforce, insufficient finances, and lack of adequate and sustainable access to essential medicines and technologies, as well as inefficient information systems, are the major setbacks for NCD management, especially in low income countries like Zimbabwe.

Sharing her personal experience, cancer survivor, Dr Rita Banik said that there is need for family support for cancer patients, who should never give up but adopt a healthy lifestyle. As countries are still in the initial years of Agenda 2030, it is high time for them to incorporate NCD care and control in their national health plans, as NCD management cross cuts many of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The strengthening of health systems in Zimbabwe will go a long way in addressing NCDs and other urgent health matters.

Locadia Mavhudzi, Citizen News Service - CNS
July 11, 2017