13/11/20

Unhealthy’ behaviours fuelling disease burden

obesity
Copyright: Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

Speed read

  • In 2019, non-communicable diseases accounted for 2.7 million deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Researchers attribute unhealthy health behaviours to the rise of noncommunicable diseases
  • Evidence on how healthcare and welfare systems can provide care to those vulnerable is key, scientist says

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[NAIROBI] Failure to change unhealthy behaviours, particularly those related to diet quality, caloric intake and physical activity is fuelling the rise in non-communicable disease globally, a scientist says.
 
Christopher Murray, who was the lead author of a study that identified a worldwide rise in non-communicable diseases, says most of the related risk factors are preventable and treatable, and tackling them will bring huge social and economic benefits.
 
“We are failing to change unhealthy behaviours, particularly those related to diet quality, caloric intake and physical activity, in part due to inadequate policy attention and funding for public health and behavioural research,” says Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“Before COVID-19, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were already struggling with the provision of services for chronic diseases.”

Gershim Asiki, African Population and Health Research Center

Non-communicable diseases including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease were responsible for 2.7 million deaths, representing 35 per cent of all deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2019, according to Awoke Misganaw Temesgen, the study’s co-author and a clinical assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
 
Nigeria had 18 per cent of all such deaths, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and South Africa each having eight per cent of the deaths.
 
“The GBD [Global Burden of Death] study, the most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study to date, analysed 286 causes of death, 369 diseases and injuries, and 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories, and reveals how well the world’s population were prepared in terms of underlying health for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Temesgen.
 
Researchers used 30,652 distinct data sources to estimate the burden of diseases across countries and regions.
 
Temesgen tells SciDev.Net that the study identified a worldwide rise in non-communicable diseases and related risk factors over the past three decades, bringing challenges to health systems.
 
Collectively, risks factors such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol accounted for nearly 20 per cent of total health loss worldwide in 2019 — nearly 50 per cent higher than in 1990, Temesgen adds.
 
Western Sub-Saharan Africa countries had most deaths with 1.1 million deaths while in Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa countries, it was close to one million deaths, adds the study, published in The Lancet last month (17 October).
 
Temesgen explains that with the disruption of health services by COVID-19, it has become more difficult for people with non-communicable diseases to access healthcare urgently.
 
“Addressing non-communicable diseases will result in more robust health systems and healthier people as well as making us more resilient to COVID-19 and other future pandemic threats,” Temesgen says.
 
Gershim Asiki, a research scientist who leads the non-communicable diseases research programme at Kenya’s African Population and Health Research Center, says that the region is experiencing a rise in non-communicable diseases but, this is not matched with an appropriate health system response.

“Before COVID-19, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were already struggling with the provision of services for chronic diseases. They face significant resource constraints, health workforce shortfalls and a fragmented care delivery for chronic diseases, which are further stretched by the pandemic,” explains Asiki.

He says that researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa should generate more evidence on the burden of chronic diseases, their economic impacts and how healthcare and welfare systems can be tailored to provide the best care to vulnerable populations.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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