Dar es Salaam — For Tanzania to register significant success in curbing Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), the country must now leverage the growing digital technology.
It has to reform its healthcare policies to match the changing global health trends and invest more in research, experts suggested during the first Mwananchi Thought Leadership Forum, whis was held in Dar es Salaam last Thursday.
Healthcare experts, academics and investors teamed up to find a common ground on how to tackle the rising trend of NCDs during the forum, which was graced by the minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu.
Dr Faraja Chiwanga, who has been leading advocacy campaigns against cancer through the Medical Women's Association of Tanzania (Mewata), believes that tackling the NCDs should now take a multi-sectorial approach.
She said challenges impeding NCDs prevention fight go beyond the health sector.
"There is need for multi-sectoral reforms. Take a scenario where a person is advised to exercise or walk rather than drive a car. How friendly are our roads for this person? Or telling people to quit smoking while farmers still produce tobacco in abundance," she queried.
Remarks by Dr Chiwanga and others at the well-attended forum followed a detailed analysis of the NCDs burden in Tanzania and across the world, which was issued by the World Health Organisation's country representative, Dr Adiele Onyeze, who was also in attendance.
According to Dr Onyeze, seven out of every 10 people globally die of NCDs, which include cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases.
In Tanzania, he noted, 34 per cent of the deaths are related to the NCDs.
"We now have many opportunities to make a difference. There is political commitment globally. There are many campaigns on the Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals," said the WHO representative at the forum.
Contributing during the forum, the vice chairperson of the Tanzania Medical Students Association (Tamsa), Mr Frank Araby, said it was high time for Tanzania to spread health awareness campaigns against NCDs to the people by taking advantage of the growing cyberspace.
He cited data from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), which shows that the number of internet users rose by 16 per cent at the end of 2017 to 23 million.
"Instead of relying on outdated ways of reaching out to the people, let's leverage this number of people who go online and take our message on NCDs prevention to them. In doing so, more people will be made aware of what to do to reduce the risks," he suggested.
In response to the suggestion, the health minister admitted that the government has previously initiated campaigns as part of rising awareness-- at least to encourage people to exercise regularly-- but they did not bear fruit.
"As the government, we've been using posters online to spread the message on how to prevent the NCDs. I think we need to step up this fight. Using online methods is what I have been advocating at the ministry," she said.
The keynote speaker at the forum, Prof Andrew Swai, said there was every reason that Tanzania should invest heavily in controlling the NCDs, citing statistics on the rising burden of the diseases over the years.
Prof Swai is the chairman of the Tanzania Diabetes Association (TDA).
"In the 1980s, a study was carried out in Tanzania and findings showed that one per cent of people in rural areas were diabetic. The percentage rose to nine when another study was conducted in 2012. This time, people in rural and urban areas were affected, and currently, we are talking of 26 per cent of Tanzanians struggling with high blood pressure," said Prof Swai.