Strengthening health systems crucial for halting non-communicable diseases

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This year’s World Health Day, commemorated on April 7, saw the African Development Bank (AfDB) reiterate its commitment to assist African countries to strengthen their health systems in order to address non-communicable diseases, including diabetes.

The Bank is strengthening health systems in East Africa through the East Africa Centres for Excellence project by building critical skills to deal with non-communicable diseases (NCD).

This resonates with the 2016 World Health Day theme, Halt the Rise: Beat Diabetes.

However, prevention of NCD is critical. “Prevention and control of chronic non-communicable diseases offers an opportunity to create healthy development and improve the quality of life of African people. This opportunity must be seized by donors, governments and other partners, otherwise the current progress on the internationally agreed SDGs will be undermined, and countries will face high costs to their economies and health systems,” said Caroline Jehu-Appiah, Principal Health Economist at the AfDB.

The burden of diabetes and reduction in life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa is already affecting the region’s economic growth. It is estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa spent over US $1.4 billion on healthcare for diabetes in 2010 which accounted for just 0.4% of world spending on diabetes.

Statistics indicate that over the next 20 years, Sub-Saharan Africa will have the highest growth in the number of people with diabetes than any region in the world, reaching 23.9 million by 2030. It is predicted that the economic impact and death toll from diabetes will surpass the ravages of HIV and AIDS in the near future.

Margaret Chang, World Health Organization’s Director General, highlighted the need to address risk factors, the greatest of them being obesity or overweight. “The disease can be treated and controlled through lifestyle changes and essential medicines,” she noted, adding that early diagnosis, diet changes and exercising would go a long way in stemming the disease.