The ministry of Health has reported an increasing trend of deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), commonly referred to as lifestyle diseases, which now account for more than one million deaths annually.
These include kidney disease, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, mental illness and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. The ministry estimates that in 2010, NCDs killed 1,064,000 people, a figure that has since increased.
Although there is no reliable national data, the Health ministry programme manager for NCDs, Dr Gerald Mutungi, says studies and expert opinion show that up to 25 per cent of Uganda's adult population is hypertensive (having high blood pressure).
Also, some 300 people per every 100,000 are estimated to have cancers and up to eight per cent of the population is estimated to have diabetes.
"Unfortunately, 80 per cent of people with these conditions do not know and NCDs remain conditions of late diagnosis especially because they are asymptomatic (there are no symptoms)," Dr Mutungi says.
He adds that delayed health care may lead to complications such as blindness, impotence, amputation, kidney failure and death and yet these diseases are preventable and treatable. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that low-income countries will have eight times more deaths attributed to NCDs by 2030 compared to high-income countries if nothing is done.
Uganda is yet to conduct a national survey to determine the prevalence level of NCDs in the country.
"Researchers and research assistants have been selected and we hope to survey between 5,000 and 8,000 people. Come mid next year, we shall know the NCD prevalence," Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the director general for health services in the Health ministry said.
Risk factors behind NCDs:
One of the identifiable risk factors for high blood pressure and diabetes is obesity. It is the number one risk factor for type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent)
"Weight concentrated around the abdomen and in the upper part of the body is associated with insulin resistance increasing one's risk of type 2 diabetes although it does not explain all cases of type 2 diabetes," Dr William Lumu, the chairman of Uganda Diabetes Association, explains.
He adds that 80 per cent of all people suffering from the type 2 diabetes are either overweight or obese. Tobacco use is another risk factor for developing small cell lung cancer (SCLC). According to an article, 'Do you know tobacco?' by the centre for addiction and mental health, when tobacco is burnt, a dark sticky "tar" is formed from a combination of hundreds of chemicals. This tar is then released in tobacco smoke in tiny particles that damage the lungs.
In an earlier interview, Dr Fred Okuku told The Observer that tobacco smoking is also associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) where lungs lose their elasticity, making it difficult to breathe.
"One spends a minimum of Shs 300,000 a week on treatment and when it becomes severe, one needs oxygen for life," Dr Okuku said.
Dr Edward Kigonya, a nephrologist, cites hypertension and HIV as common risk factors of kidney diseases and people with kidney disease are much more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.
Also, unhealthy diets such as those containing a lot of fats, sugars and salt, indoor pollution, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol put one at risk of NCDs.
Prevention of NCDs:
In order to prevent NCDs, Dr Mutungi advises people to:
Reduce intake of food and drinks high in added sugar, fats and salt because of their effect on weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
Drink moderate quantities of alcohol and avoid excess consumption of crude alcohol and spirits sold in sachets.
Maintain a healthy body weight.
Regularly consult your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Do physical exercise as part of your daily routine. Do not rush into doing vigorous exercises; start small and increase gradually for at least half an hour every day